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Funding source for Control Tower still 'up in the air'

The Department of Port Administration is still searching for a funding source to pay for a new Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) for the Pago Pago International Airport. This was noted in Port Administration’s first quarter performance report for fiscal year 2013 submitted by DPA Director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele to Acting Director of Planning and Budget Office Catherine Saelua.


The issue of a much needed air traffic control tower was raised last month by Rep. Vailoata Amituana’i during Taimalelagi’s confirmation hearing. Vailoata urged Taimalelagi to look into the matter, saying there has been much talk about carrying out the work but  to date, there is nothing to show for it. Vailoata said his concern is for the safety of the traveling public, both those in the air and those who are at the airport and nearby areas.


According to the report, two officials from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived in the territory on April 26-30, 2009 and conducted a Site Investigation for the preferred sites for the proposed new air traffic control tower.


DPA officials and the FAA officials met with then Governor Togiola Tulafono to update the Governor on the progress of the project. Consultants Maunsell/AECOM submitted the Concept Design Site Report which was Phase I for the design of the ATCT. A copy was submitted to Togiola for his review.


The FAA worked closely with DPA and AECOM to speed up the FAA approval process, which is a long evaluation process. On August 28, 2009 the FAA selected sites for the proposed tower and the DPA/AECOM have selected the best location for the tower. AECOM conducted necessary geotechnical investigations on April 20-29, 2010.


AECOM submitted 30% design on May 21, 2010; 60% of the design on August 2, 2010; and the 100% final design in late August 2010.


Togiola, representatives of the Department of Port Administration, FAA officials, and consultants AECOM met in October of that year in Honolulu to discuss the final ATCT design and also the options of funding to construct the proposed ATCT.


Additional items for design were added to the original design following the outcome of the Honolulu meeting. The final design for the ATCT has been approved and all construction design drawings and documentations are with Port Administration, awaiting funding for construction.


According to DPA, all permits have been approved for construction to commence.


Interestingly, in 2007, American Samoa had within its reach a grant of $2 million for the construction of an ATCT at Pago Pago International Airport.


Togiola Tulafono, the Governor of American Samoa at the time, was given a deadline of September 30 to sign an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration or risk losing the money. But he declined to sign, saying he wanted the FAA to fully finance the tower equipment and agree to maintain it. In addition. Togiola also wanted the FAA to pay employees to man the control tower.


At the time, the FAA’s Regional Administrator for the Western Pacific Region, Bill Withycombe, told the American Samoa Government that those conditions were not acceptable.The FAA gave ASG until the end of the month to sign what is called an Other Transaction Agreement for the construction of a non federal air traffic control tower.


In early 2004, the FAA ruled to close the tower at Tafuna Airport because the cost-ratio did not justify the construction of a new tower.


Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin said at the time,  “I find it absolutely ludicrous that the FAA would recommend closure of the tower and that we would have to depend on advisories from Faleolo International Airport some 80 miles away for all incoming and outgoing flights at Tafuna.”


In 2009, Faleomavaega called on the local Legislature to hold oversight hearings to find out why there is a delay in the construction of an air traffic control tower for the Pago Pago International Airport.


Based on a request by Faleomavaega, close to $2 million dollars had been allocated by the US Congress more than three years earlier for the project.


Faleomavaega said he could not understand why the territorial government did not move  to complete the construction of the tower, when the agreement and funding had been in place for a long time. He suggested that the Fono hold oversight hearings on this issue.


According to the Congressman, Faleolo’s tower was built for only $400,000 dollars and he believes American Samoa can do the same.


In April 2011, Port Administration submitted to the ARRA Office a request and follow ups throughout that year for funding assistance of $15 million to construct the ATCT. The amount included costs for training locals as air traffic controllers to man the ATCT upon completion. DPA was not successful in their request and is still looking for a funding source.