ASG asks Polynesian for weekly flight to Ofu
American Samoa Government is hoping to convince Polynesian Airlines to operate at least one weekly flight between Tutuila and Ofu Airport following a test-flight late last week, while the Samoa government owned airline has sought a six-months cabotage waiver to operate the territory’s domestic air service.
The Ofu Airport, which serves Ofu and Olosega islands, was re-certified more than a year ago by the Federal Aviation Administration as a commercial airport. It had been without commercial flights for many years after Inter Island Airways discontinued service due to safety and runway issues.
Polynesian Airlines is currently operating flights between Tutuila and Ta’u airport in Manu’a under a cabotage waiver exemption granted by the federal government.
ASG is hoping that Polynesian will extend commercial flights to Ofu Airport, with a “test run or test flight” last Thursday, according to Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele, who was on board the test flight along with Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, Polynesian chief executive officer Seiuli Alvin Tuala and two other airline officials.
In preparation for the “test run” using Polynesian’s 19-seat Twin Otter plane, two Port Administration staff traveled on the MV Sili to Ofu. “The test run went well,” Taimalelagi said and noted that word must have gone out about the flight to Ofu, because there were a handful of residents at the Tafuna airport wanting to travel on that flight.
“It was explained to them that this was a trial run flight and could not take any passengers,” Taimalelagi told Samoa News “And while in Ofu, we learned of two critical patients who needed to be transported to Tutuila for medical reasons.”
“Seiuli was very kind to allow the flight to bring these critical patients back to Tutuila and the ambulance was at the Tafuna airport upon our return.” Taimalelagi said. “We just couldn’t leave these patients behind.”
Seiuli went back to Apia following the test run but returned yesterday for a meeting with Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to “discuss the possibility of Polynesian operating a regular once-a-week flight to Ofu,” Taimalelagi said. “Polynesian has been reluctant to fly in and out of Ofu due to the runway and the costs involved in such an operation.”
It's unclear at this point if Polynesian has agreed to American Samoa’s request to operate fights to and from Ofu Airport following Seiuli’s meeting with the governor.
Meanwhile, Polynesian, through its Washington D.C. based attorneys, has submitted a new application seeking a federal cabotage waiver for six months to operate flights between Tutuila and Manu’a.
The airline’s initial waiver application last November sought a 90-day cabotage waiver, but the U.S. Department of Transportation only granted three separate 30-day waivers, while it continues to monitor whether or not a U.S. airline will cover the territory’s domestic route. The most recent 30-day exemption ends Feb. 28.
As of last week, there is still no U.S. carrier operating domestic flights, with Inter Island Air’s plane down for an engine overhaul while plans by Manu’a Air came to an end last December when ASG voided its agreement and took back the ASG plane, the Segaula. The Segaula has since been leased to a new start-up, locally based Tausani Airlines.
When Tausani Air will begin flights for Manu’a remains to be seen.
In its new exemption application filed Feb. 5, Polynesian requested a waiver for a period of six months beginning March 1. The airline says the 6-month request is to avoid the need to file duplicate applications.
However, the airline said it fully understands that it will be required to cease this service no more than five days after a U.S. carrier initiates the Tutuila-Manu’a air service.
“No U.S. carrier is able to provide Pago Pago-Manu’a Islands service, nor is one likely to be in a position to provide this service in the near future,” said Polynesian, adding that it remains unclear as to when Inter Island Airways will return to service.
If granted a new exemption, Polynesian says it will continue to operate “twice-daily flights” between Tutuila and Manu’a, depending on the needs of island residents, and shipper and aircraft availability, and will continue to operate medical evacuation and other emergency flights as needed. Additionally, flights will be operated with Polynesian’s 19-seat Twin Otter aircraft.
Polynesian says the new application is based on the request of the American Samoa Government and included a Feb. 4 letter from Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to Robert Finmore of the USDOT’s U.S. Air Carrier and Foreign Air Carrier Licensing Division.
In his letter, Lolo says the extension of the exemption facilitates providing assistance to mitigate emergency circumstances caused by the lack of service and ultimately, to remedy the undue hardship to those affected.