Frequent flyer laments cost of Fagali'i closure
A frequent flyer to American Samoa says the closure of Fagali'i Airport this week has coincided with extra travelling costs including a $60 rise in airfares and an extra $80 on a pre-flight taxi.
The airport was closed for reasons of safety according to the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, and the Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang.
The Fagali’i Airport was operated by Samoa Airways but was handed over to the Ministry of Police on Tuesday; it will be used for Police training exercises. Passengers traveling to American Samoa now depart from Faleolo International Airport.
But one frequent flyer told the Samoa Observer that the changeover has coincided with a hike in the cost of roundtrip airfares.
A Samoa Airways sales representative on Friday confirmed that a round trip ticket to Pago Pago now costs $408.25 for Samoa Airways and $410.20 for Talofa Airways. Previously flyers had reported paying $345 to fly the same routes.
Emailed questions about price increases and whether the change of airport would burden customers with permanent additional costs did not receive a response from Samoa Airways' Chief Executive Officer, Seiuli Tupuivao Alvin Tuala, on Friday.
Thomas Ah Chong, who makes regular trips to American Samoa, told the Samoa Observer the increase in airfares was “ridiculous”.
“It’s almost the same airfare to go to New Zealand (one way) and this does not include the $80 taxi fare," he said.
“What the heck [were they] thinking when they handed over the airport to the Ministry of Police?
“The move that will costs the consumers more money and I highly doubt they even conducted an assessment [of its] economic impact."
In March last year, Minister Papali’i announced a decision to return the Fagali’i to the Samoa Airport Authority (S.A.A.) because it would provide greater security as it had fire trucks on standby in case of emergency.
“If something does happen they don’t have fire trucks, only the Airport Authority does, and also in terms of [terrorists] coming in – we need [the] Authority to manage those operations, and especially it is an international airport and needs to stick to international laws,” he said at the time.
But eight months later the Minister said those plans had since been reversed: instead of going to the S.A.A. the airport was now to be handed over the Police..
“If I didn’t know any better it does not sound like the Government had planned the handing over thoroughly,” said Mr. Ah Chong.
Last week, taxi drivers, shop owners a wide range of people around Fagalii commented on the varying impacts of the Fagali’i shutdown.
A taxi driver of the Fagalii Airport Taxi Stand, Faamanu Kuresa from Puipaa said his future livelihood is now insecure.
"This is what was feeding my family, putting my children in school and put food on the table," he said.
"On a good day I would make about $100, and about $300-$400 on a weekly basis, but now I'm not sure how I'm gonna go about with my taxi."
Shop owners opposite the road from the Fagalii Airport displayed mixed emotions when asked about the closing of the airport.
One shop owner did not want to comment telling the Samoa Observer that it will not make a difference as the airport will be closed despite their comments.
Another, 69-year-old Epenesa Vili, whose store has been open since 1994 says she does not rely on the airport.
"The airport has been shut before and my shop was never closed, unlike those other shops, so I don't think it will be any different this time for us," she said.
"There are others who pass by here a lot, from Vailele and Letogo and here in Fagalii, but who knows."