Talks underway to lease 'Segaula' to Inter-Island Air
The government is currently negotiating to lease to Inter Island Airways, the ASG Segaula nine-seater aircraft, to assist in operating flights to the Manu’a island group.
The aircraft is used mostly for flights to and from Ofu Airport, which has been without air service for some three years since Inter Island discontinued service over concerns regarding the short runway. It is also used for Fitiuta Airport on Ta’u island if Inter Island flights are down.
Responding to questions at yesterday’s news conference Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says both sides “are working on a lease agreement” so the government can lease the Segaula to Inter Island “to fly to Manu’a”.
“So the staff is still working on negotiating a deal with them."
“The idea, [is] that we should not get involved in business at this stage and time, especially when we have a local airline who can handle that.”
“Besides, what we have is not really insured to do that type of business,” said Lolo referring to the Segaula. “But we’ve been flying people back and forth without the proper insurance. So by having Inter Island get into that, they will provide insurance. Many people will be secure when they fly versus what we have here.”
He said the Segaula plane can fly with passengers, but if something happens the government is liable.
Asked if it wouldn’t be beneficial to the government to sell this aircraft in order to help with the current ASG finances, Lolo replied, “it’s leased to own; it's the same thing.”
The aircraft was purchased by the Togiola Administration a couple of years ago and the move came under much criticism from lawmakers and the public. The former administration defended the move saying the plane has been useful — for example, to conduct medical evacuations from Manu’a as well as providing air service when Inter Island is down.
Department of Port Administration is handling the negotiations with Inter Island and the administration’s main focus is to ensure reliable service to not only Ofu but also to Fitiuta airport. Additionally, the administration wants to see a “locally owned airline prosper and succeed with new jobs created,” according to the Governor’s Office when asked Tuesday about this same issue.
An official with Inter Island confirmed that negotiations are on-going at this point and noted that there are a lot of issues to deal with before any decision is final. The official also thanked the Lolo Administration for their continued support of the locally based carrier.
Lolo had revealed during his address to the Fono in January that he was exploring the best way to utilize the Segaula to address the air service needs of Manu’a.
He said the Segaula was not authorized to act as a commercial carrier except for government related trips. However, if the Segaula plane is leased to a commercial carrier possessing the required FAA licenses, service to Ofu can resume, the governor noted.
“I am concerned that the government does not have the financial capacity to withstand a liability suit if a passenger is hurt. It is also the policy of this administration to divest functions which should be in private sector hands,” he said.