American Samoa's governor criticizes FAA
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa » A defiant territorial governor said the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't control his borders, insisting he has the power to exclude Hawaiian Airlines from flying to American Samoa despite threats to cut federal funding.
Gov. Togiola Tulafono said on Monday that he doesn't dispute the FAA's authority to regulate airlines, but he says the federal agency cannot keep him from exercising the territory's authority to control customs and border crossings.
Tulafono criticized the FAA for its warning against implementing an executive order issued last month demanding that Hawaiian Airlines end its Honolulu-Pago Pago route in favor of another airline.
Tulafono has complained for months that Hawaiian, the only airline serving the route, charges too much and poorly serves passengers flying to and from the territory.
Ronnie Simpson, manager of the FAA's Airports District Office in Honolulu, told the governor in the letter that the territory risks the loss of federal assistance with the action against Hawaiian. He said the Pago Pago airport is obligated to serve the airlines, citing regulations that prohibit "a state or local government from acting to regulate an air carrier's rates, routes or services."
Tulafono accused Simpson of sending a threatening letter before examining the facts or the territorial government's authority in the matter.
"It just appears from the timing and contents of this letter that there is some kind of an agenda behind it," the governor said. "This is something I cannot just ignore."
Responding to e-mail questions, Tulafono said Monday that he considered FAA rules before drafting the executive order.
"The executive order was carefully crafted to deal with our authority to control our own borders in accordance with federal and local laws, which is something outside the jurisdiction of FAA," he said.
Territorial Senate President Lolo M. Moliga and Congressman Eni H. Faleomavaega, the territory's representative in the U.S. Congress, have urged all parties to meet to resolve their differences.
Tulafono said he is ready to meet with Hawaiian officials if they write to him saying that they are willing to work together on ways to reduce airfares and eliminate excessive fees and charges imposed on American Samoan passengers.
Responding to Togiola's initial letter which laid out the reasons for the action against Hawaiian, Mark B. Dunkerley, Hawaiian's chief executive officer and president, said the costs of operating to American Samoa are much higher than other routes.
He cited, among other things, steadily rising fuel costs.
But Tulafono said on his weekend radio program that he doesn't think the fares are justified by high fuel costs.
"The only way that Hawaiian will actually respond to our concerns is to tell them, we are going to find another carrier to serve the Pago Pago market," he said.