Samoa Air finds lack of air service to Ofu "heartbreaking"
Samoa Air is hoping for major support from American Samoa residents and the Lolo Administration to convince the federal government to revamp restrictions placed on the airline for operating flights between Pago Pago International Airport and the Ofu Airport in Manu’a.
“The situation with no [air] service to Ofu Airport is heartbreaking to us,” Samoa Air chief executive officer Chris Langton said via telephone from Apia yesterday. “While Samoa and American Samoa are politically different, we are all Samoans. We help out each other.”
Samoa Air is to relaunch today direct flights between Maota Airport, Savai'i and Pago Pago, as well as flights from Faleolo airport on Upolu to Pago Pago. The airline was also hoping this week for flights between Pago Pago and Ofu Airport, which has been without air service for some three years.
Langton said the airline had pre-planned and budgeted into its schedule Ofu as a destination, with three weekly flights, but that is not the case with the wording of the federal cabotage exemption granted to the airline by the U.S. Transportation Department to operate the territory’s domestic air service.
According to the federal government decision, Samoa Air is authorized to “conduct services limited to the emergency medical transportation of passengers and/or cargo” between Tutuila and Manu’a. The cabotage exemption is valid between Mar. 22 and Apr. 21, 2013.
However, USDOT said it has denied a portion of Samoa Air’s application — that is, its request for authority to transport passengers and/or cargo unrelated to emergency medical transportation.
Langton said Samoa Air has humbly asked the current governor and his administration to consider requesting — “on our behalf” — that USDOT relax the conditions of the cabotage waiver, to allow the airline to take non emergency passengers and cargo for Ofu, whose “residents have been without air service for too long.”
“We're also trying to find other ways to have USDOT support our request to ease the restrictions,” he said, adding that one way is for support from residents of the territory — especially those in Ofu and Olosega islands — urging the federal government for a change in their decision.
“It just breaks my heart with the issue on Ofu [air service],” he said with quivering voice.
Asked if Samoa Air can still provide service to Fitiuta Airport on Ta’u island in Manu’a, the airline’s CEO said, the restrictions on the cabotage waiver also cover Fitiuta airport.
There is currently no air service to and from Fitiuta, after Inter Island Airways’ plane was grounded last Friday in Samoa due to a mechanical problem. Inter Island Air is hoping the necessary parts arrive by the end of this week from off-island. Flights to and from Samoa are also currently affected.
USDOT said in its decision that it “expects Samoa Air, if approached to conduct a flight covered by this exemption between Pago Pago and Fitiuta Airport, to ascertain the availability of service by Inter Island Air and to give it the option of conducting the flight, provided it can do so within a reasonable period of time in consideration of the urgent nature of the required transportation.”