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Problems with airport navigational aids force HA to fly daytime

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says one of the navigational aids at Pago Pago International Airport is now back in service, while another piece of equipment is going through a major refurbishment. The “status of the navigational aids” at Pago Pago International Airport was cited by Hawaiian Airlines as the reason for the delay of its Monday night flight from Honolulu, according to a memo Monday afternoon from Mitzi Semo, the airline’s local station manager.


Flight 465 out of Honolulu didn’t depart until 2 a.m. yesterday, arriving in Pago Pago around 7 a.m. The outbound flight 466 departed after 8 a.m. yesterday morning, and arrived in Honolulu around 2:30 p.m.


Calls to the Port Administration Department on Monday afternoon inquiring about the navigational aids were referred to the FAA, which oversees such airport equipment.


Responding to Samoa News questions, Los Angeles based FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said yesterday morning that the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Pago Pago International Airport “was temporarily out of service earlier this week. It is now back in service.”


Additionally, another area navigation aid, the VOR — which stands for VHF omni directional radio range — “has been out of service for some time, while we perform a major refurbishment,” he said via e-mail.


Gregor explained that the VOR is a type of short-range radio navigation system that enables aircraft to determine their position and stay on course by receiving radio signals transmitted by a network of fixed ground radio beacons.


The FAA spokesman also confirmed it is the “FAA’s sole responsibility to maintain, modify and restore the navigational aids” for Pago Pago International Airport.


Samoa News learned Monday evening that Hawaiian also had to delay departure of its flight out of Honolulu in March due to the same issue of navigational aids. The airline scheduled the flight at the time to arrive and depart Pago Pago during daylight hours.


Asked if the Tafuna airport has encountered problems in the past with the navigational aids, Gregor did not answer with specifics. He noted that the FAA has tens of thousands of navigational aids throughout the system, and periodically has to take them out of service for repairs, routine maintenance and upgrades. Additionally, navigation aids also occasionally experience unanticipated outages due to broken parts, corrosion, weather-related damage, etc.


“The electronic systems in American Samoa are located in close proximity to the ocean and salt air, and system performance deteriorates quickly in a humid island climate,” he said. “We have taken several navigation aids at Pago Pago out of service during the past year for various reasons. The outage of a navigation aid can have no effect on operations if it's a bad-weather aid — for example, an ILS — and good weather conditions prevail during the outage.”


Asked for an explanation on what navigational aids are and where they are located at an airport, Gregor said navigational aids include the Instrument Landing System (ILS), Non-Directional Beacon (NDB), Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) & Variable Omni-Directional Radio (VORTAC) including visual landing aides such as the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI).


“Some — such as the ILS and PAPIs —  are located at an airport and others are located around airports,” he added.