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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 29, 2006

Territory's governor tells airline to go away

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

The governor of American Samoa, who for months has accused Hawaiian Airlines of fare gouging, is now ordering the carrier to stop flying to the South Pacific territory.

But a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said yesterday that the FAA is the only government entity that can issue such an order, and Hawaiian said it has no plans to pull out.

Hawaiian is the only commercial airline that flies from Ho-nolulu to Pago Pago, American Samoa.

On Thursday, American Samoa Gov. Togiola T.A. Tulafono issued an executive order directing Hawaiian to cease flying to Pago Pago in 90 days.

The order came a month after Tulafono called for Hawaiian to pull out voluntarily, saying the airline charges more for the Honolulu-Pago Pago flight than it does for other flights of similar distance.

Tulafono, a former vice president with South Pacific Island Airways, which served American Samoa, has said that Hawaiian's pullout would allow American Samoa to find another carrier.

Hawaiian said yesterday that Tulafono has no legal authority to order the airline out of the market. The airline previously has said that Tulafono's plan is not widely supported by residents and civic leaders in American Samoa.

"We are confident that the order has no legal power and we're disappointed that Gov. Tulafono has taken this action," said Hawaiian spokesman Keoni Wagner.

"Hawaiian has responded in good faith to all of the governor's concerns and we've offered to discuss them face to face, but he has so far refused to meet with us."

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the FAA is the only government agency that can suspend or order an airline with an operating certificate to stop flying a particular route.

Kenitzer said such an order can only be made after the FAA demonstrates legal grounds for such a move.

Gus Hannemann, the Hawai'i liaison for American Samoa's territorial Senate, said a pullout by Hawaiian would have disastrous consequences. Given the small size of the travel market to Pago Pago, Hannemann said it's doubtful whether another airline would replace Hawaiian were it to pull out.

"What worries me is that there are no major airlines waiting to serve American Samoa," Hannemann said.

Hawaiian, the state's largest airline, has flown to Pago Pago for about 20 years.

The local carrier operates three flights a week during the summer season and two flights a week for the remainder of the year.

Hawaiian executives previously said operating costs are high for the American Samoa route because of high fuel costs and landing fees.

Reach Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com.