29 Apr 2013

American Samoa Governor looks to bring airfares from Honolulu down

6:19 pm on 29 April 2013

The American Samoa governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga has confirmed his government is exploring all options to bring down airfares between Honolulu and Pago Pago.

The governor told local media he has discussed options for reducing airfares at a meeting with territorial leaders, including an official with the U.S. Department of Interior.

Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor reports.

For years there has been debate between local leaders and the airline as to the price structure of airfares to and from American Samoa.

The territory's government believes fares between American Samoa and Hawaii should be based on distance travelled in the same way as other fares offered by the airline.

A standard return-flight ticket from Pago Pago to Honolulu costs 1,200 US dollars.

Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga says one option is for the government to buy shares and become part of Hawaiian Airlines.

"It's just a simple thought. If we can't beat the system we might as well join it."

According to government officials, the idea is to give the territory a legitimate voice in the affairs of the airline.

The governor says territorial leaders must band together to find alternatives.

So as leaders we should start thinking of doing something different. And I think we can not just sit around.

The Visitors Bureau executive director, David Vaeafe, agrees and welcomes the move by the governor.

It's a great initative in looking at all the options that we have before us. And taking into consideration what's happening out there in the marketplace and so forth.

He says the Bureau has an air marketing services study underway being carried out by a US company.

There's only one US carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, flying from Honolulu twice a week and three other carriers now coming between the two Samoas. If we are to seriously grow tourism we need to really look at how we can develop further the aviation connections.

David Vaeafe says one thing the study has found is that there is interest from other carriers, but he says it comes down to the rules and regulations of flying into a US Territory.

He says the government and Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin are working on this issue.

Our correspondent, Fili Sagapolutele, says airfare disputes between the government and the airline have been going on for years.

Going back to the late part of 2002, Hawaiian Airlines was the only one flying between Honolulu and American Samoa.

And she says the airline has always argued operation costs is why fares are so expensive.

Not only for the fuel costs, the landing fees and the government services provided here, but a layover crew here in American Samoa is very costly for the airline.

Meanwhile, Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga, says the earliest Hawaiian might bring down fares is 2017 when it will introduce smaller, more fuel-efficient planes.