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Fed bill for longer cabotage waiver reintroduced

A Polynesian Airlines plane on the runway at Pago Pago International Airport. [courtesy photo]

Twenty-four hours after the new 115th Congress took office on Jan. 3, Congresswoman Aumua Amata reintroduced federal legislation providing a longer cabotage waiver period for foreign carriers operating American Samoa’s domestic air route, while the Lolo Administration is still hoping to remove the cabotage law on American Samoa entirely.

The legislation, which would amend current federal law, to “ensure reliable air service in American Samoa” is co-sponsored by Northern Mariana Islands Congressman Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan and the bill has been referred to the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, according to Congressional records.

The language of the new bill is identical to a measure passed in the last Congress by the US Senate but didn’t have time to make its way through the US House. The Senate bill included provisions from Aumua, who vowed last month to reintroduce, during the first week of the new Congress, stand-alone legislation dealing with the Manu’a cabotage waiver, which had been on her agenda during her first term in the US House.

The Senate bill covers four issues for the insular areas including cabotage for Manu’a flights.

Current federal law requires only a 30-day cabotage waiver but the new legislation would give American Samoa’s domestic flights operated by a foreigner carrier a 180-day cabotage exemption period, which would also be the same period for renewal.

Samoa government owned Polynesian Airlines has been operating Manu’a flights for about two years under 30-day cabotage waivers, granted by the US Transportation Department (USDOJ) due to the lack of a US carrier to operate the territory’s domestic route.

Meanwhile, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga in his official written State of the Territory, through his Comprehensive Report, said the Administration will continue to maintain collaborative effort with Aumua and leaders of the Fono to pursue draft legislation for the US Congress to “remove the federal cabotage law on American Samoa entirely” as well as “pushing USDOT to increase a cabotage waiver for Polynesian to one-year.”