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FAA explains ILS situation at Pago Pago International Airport

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US Federal Aviation Administration has explained the situation surrounding the needed repairs for the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Pago Pago International Airport that prompted Hawaiian Airlines to reschedule the time for its flights in and out of American Samoa.

Instead of Monday and Thursday nights, Hawaiian’s flights — starting yesterday — now arrive and depart during the daytime, on Tuesday and Friday mornings. And this will be the schedule through July 27th. (See Monday’s Samoa News edition for details.)

Responding to Samoa News inquiries from the weekend, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor provided background information and explained that FAA took down the ILS on March 23 to make needed repairs.

“Technicians replaced a corroded tower and installed new antennas and transmission lines,” he said via email from Los Angeles, adding that the FAA expected to return the ILS to service on April 11.

He explained that the FAA flight checks all new and repaired systems with an FAA aircraft. “Equipment on board the aircraft tells us whether the system is working properly. Our April 9 flight check of the ILS showed it was not working properly. Further investigation found that the replacement antennas were defective,” Gregor continued.

He said the FAA has ordered new antennas for the ILS, and once those are installed, FAA “will need to flight check the system again.” FAA expects to return the ILS to service in July.

“Hawaiian Airlines was landing at night for a while after we took down the ILS on March 23,” he pointed out.

If Hawaiian has been operating in and out of Pago Pago at night since Mar. 23rd, Samoa News asked the airline why it has decided to stop now.

“We did keep our schedule intact when we thought the repair was going to be fairly quick,” was the response from Hawaiian spokesperson Ann Botticelli. “But with an extended period of time without an ILS, and the increased possibility of having to proceed to an alternate airport if weather conditions deteriorate, we have decided it's best to re-time the flights.”

As to when the FAA informed Hawaiian and other carriers operating out of Pago Pago of the repairs to the ILS, Gregor responded, “30 days before we shut the system down.”

Botticelli said over the weekend that until the ILS is repaired, “our pilots are required to land our aircraft using visual references.”

Gregor told Samoa News there are other Pago Pago International Airport approaches based on other navigation aids, “but none provide the level of precision of the ILS.”

There also are visual lighting systems, including a Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI) and Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System (MALSR) available to all Pago Pago Airport users, he said.

“The purpose of all FAA procedures and navigation systems is to help pilots fly safely. However, it's up to an operator to determine under which conditions they will use various procedures and systems,” Gregor explained further. “Operators might have policies that preclude their pilots from using certain systems in certain conditions.”

When asked if Hawaiian is using “other approaches” as outlined by the FAA, Botticelli responded, “other approaches require visual maneuvering of the aircraft. Tafuna Airport is right by a mountain — as you know — and so visual maneuvering is best done in daylight.”

She said the “nearby mountain makes visual landing in the dark more difficult.”

“Any inclement weather could result in diversions. It is best, therefore, to re-time the flights through the summer to ensure daylight arrivals and departures,” she added.

Samoa News received word from two local residents, who claimed to have called Monday morning to the Hawaiian #800-reservation number regarding the changes in the scheduled time  for flights. The two residents said they were told by an agent at the #800-number that they had not been informed of any changes to the flights.

Samoa News shared this information and concern with Botticelli, who said she would pass the information on to the airline’s reservations department.