American Samoa to sue over Samoa Airways flights

The American Samoa Government is preparing to file a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Samoa Airways to start operating flights into Pago Pago from Hawai’i, officials have confirmed. 

The lawsuit will take aim at the U.S. Department of Transportation over cabotage (or freight and transport) laws that prevent the national carrier from bringing passengers into the American territory. 

American laws governing sea, air and transport within American borders currently stand in the way of the state-owned Samoa Airways from servicing the Pago Pago-Hawai’i route.

The territory’s Governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, has been pushing for some time to have the law waived to allow Samoa Airways to carry U.S.-based passengers. 

The Supreme Court case was confirmed on Sunday by Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, Governor Lolo’s Executive Assistant. 

In response to Samoa Observer inquiries, Iulogologo said Governor Lolo has instructed American Samoa’s Attorney, General Mitzie Jessop Ta’ase, to proceed with litigation.

“The Governor has instructed Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Ta'ase to start the process of filing our appeal,” he said.

“A team of local lawyers, Hawai’i and Washington-based attorneys make up the team who will be preparing this appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Previously, the U.S. Department of Transportation has approved a waiver to allow Samoa Airways and Talofa Airways to provide travel between the Tutuila and Manu’a islands in American Samoa.

“Talofa Airlines has also [previously] been granted a waiver to service the same market. The Governor is still working to push for a [...] waiver for the Pago-Hawai’i route, he said. 

Fono Representative, Larry Sanitoa, told the news outlet Slate that travel restrictions were the biggest restrictions on American Samoa: 

“If we’re ever going to get tourism working or perhaps more trade working, we have to have these foreign carriers,” he said. 

“U.S. Congresswoman Aumua Amata, is trying very hard [to achieve change].

“But I think it’s got to go up to the next level because obviously, there’s a reason why we can’t get a waiver.”

Laws restrict transit and commerce between two U.S. destinations by non-American carriers.

Hawaiian Airlines is the only airline that services the Pago Pago-Hawai’i route and the current restrictions reduce competition, critics of the legislation say. 

But according to the Slate report, a change in the law is unlikely because both U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Presidential candidate Joe Biden have voiced their support for current legislation.  

In Governor Lolo’s 2020 State of the Territory Address, he said he was prepared to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation if the federal agency denied his request for a waiver.

Governor Lolo wrote to President Trump and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, requesting an exemption allowing Samoa Airways to pick up passengers in American Samoa destined for Hawai’i and the mainland, Samoa News reported.

The two Samoan island groups are on the short list of countries and territories that have remained free of COVID-19 since the pandemic spread across the globe in early 2020.


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