House reps ask why runway lights didn’t come on when Hawaiian plane tried to land
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A hearing was called by the House Port Administration committee this week to find out why the runway lights at the Pago Pago International Airport were not on when the Hawaiian Airlines flight arrived last Thursday.
Several passengers who were on the HAL flight that night, said the aircraft was unable to land during its first approach because the airport lights were not on, and called their representatives to complain, resulting in the House hearing.
Manu’a faipule, Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr said during a House session last Friday that according to his nephew and other family members who were on the flight, as the flight was descending, everyone were surprised when the aircraft went up in the air suddenly.
The aircraft then circled around, until the airport lights came on, and the plane landed safety without any problems.
Other representatives verified Vesi’s statement and asked for a hearing with the Director of Port Administration to find out why these problems continue to happen at the airport.
Rep. Vailoata E. Amituana’i said the reason why these problems continue to happen is because there is no air traffic control tower to monitor flights coming in to American Samoa.
Saole faipule, Rep. Kitara Vaiau said the reason why we don’t have an air traffic tower is because the FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) decided that for the number of planes that come into American Samoa we are adequately covered by the control tower in Faleolo, Samoa. He said there is a frequency that all incoming planes are supposed to tune in to.
Other faipule said this is not the first time a problem like this happened at the airport. They recalled another incident in 2014 when a helicopter and a plane almost collided. Faipule say the only way to avoid these types of incidents is for an air traffic tower to be installed.
The hearing that was scheduled for Monday morning with the Director of Port Administration, Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele was cancelled when the director did not show up, which made some of the representatives angry.
Vesi, who raised the issue during the House session last Friday told the committee this week that they should not take this issue lightly because this is not the first time this problem has happened at the airport.
“Over 300 passengers were on the flight the night this problem happened,” Vesi said, raising his voice.
“What can we say if something happened to the plane? Who is going to be blamed? Can our government do something to bring back the lives of all these people who were on the plane that night? I don’t think so, and that’s why I want the director to be present to tell us why these problems at the airport continue to happen.”
It was in the middle of the committee’s discussion when the House Secretary walked in to the House chamber and informed the committee chairman, Rep. Kitara Vaiau they just received information from the governor’s office that the director is off island while her deputy director is at the Cabinet meeting.
After Kitara informed the committee about the situation, Rep. Gafatasi Afalava immediately said, it seems that the issue about directors not honoring the call from the Fono to be present during committee hearings is continuing to happen.
Vesi agreed, saying the only way to stop this problem from happening again is to exercise the subpoena power of the Fono, and order the director to appear before the committee.
Vice Speaker Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr. seconded Vesi’s statement, saying nothing can stop the Fono from exercising its authority under the Constitution; however, the committee must also consider the request from Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga a few weeks ago — that directors who are being requested to appear are the ones with key roles in the government’s partnership with FEMA.
“Again as I mentioned before, we have to take into consideration the pleas from the Executive Branch that all of the cabinet members have a busy schedule, helping our people with FEMA assessments and other events that benefit our people. I don’t see any problem having deputy directors appear because they are the ones working together with the directors in making decisions for their departments,” Fetu said.
Vesi told Samoa News after the cancelled hearing that according to the report he received, the airport runway lights did not work last Thursday night when the Hawaiian Airlines plane tried to remotely turn them on about ten miles out.
The hearing has not been re-scheduled for a later date as the Fono is due to officially end the third regular session of the 35th legislature, today — Wednesday. They convene in July for the 4th regular session and it is unknown if a hearing will be called again on the issue.