Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has written Governor Lolo regarding his request for exemption for American Samoa to cabotage that was raised in their meeting last month. Currently, no U.S. state or territory is exempt from cabotage.
The Congressman’s letter dated, May 9, 2013, was copied to Lieutenant Governor Lemanu and the leadership and members of the Fono. The full text of the letter is included below.
Dear Governor Lolo:
I write regarding your request for my assistance on granting American Samoa an exemption for cabotage on air transportation for travel between Tutuila and Manu’a, and also between American Samoa and other U.S. cities.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), cabotage is the carriage of revenue traffic by a foreign air carrier solely between two U.S. points, other than as part of a through trip on that same foreign carrier that involves travel to or from a foreign point. Meaning, cabotage prevents foreign airlines from carrying passengers or cargo between two U.S. cities.
Furthermore, cabotage has long been banned by U.S. law, except in certain “emergency circumstances.” Such an exemption of cabotage is granted by USDOT by strict regulations and must be consistent with the public interest. For example, Polynesian Airlines was granted a 30-day exemption for cabotage in 2003 and 2004, and Samoa Air earlier this year when no U.S. carrier was able to provide air transportation between Tutuila and Manu’a.
Originally a shipping term for the transport of goods and passengers between two ports by a foreign vessel, cabotage stems from the Jones Act, or section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Jones Act required that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports must be made by ships registered in the U.S., built in the U.S., owned and crewed by U.S. citizens. This has been the foundation for policies regarding U.S. maritime and the protection law for U.S. domestic shipping, which later expanded to include air transportation. The essence for cabotage of air transportation was later established by law through the Air Commerce Act of 1926.
The issue of cabotage for American Samoa has been ongoing since the Tauese and the Togiola administrations. Each time, USDOT has not been able to make any exemption for cabotage for commercial air transportation. In my years in Congress, I have consulted previous Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation for exempting American Samoa. However, they were unfavorable but realistic because of the objections to allowing foreign carriers to compete with U.S. airlines in a domestic market, outsourcing of jobs to foreign carriers, and simply granting preferential treatment for American Samoa would be challenging.
Cabotage has been raised numerous times during the annual Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) meetings but the pertinent federal agencies have responded unfavorable to the request made by our local government. In a recent discussion with Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs of USDOT, Ms. Susan McDermott, she informed my office that it would be highly improbable to make any exemptions for cabotage other than “emergency circumstances” only. The statutory requirements are clear and there is no flexibility for discretionary authority to exempt cabotage for commercial travel.
Besides transportation for our residents between American Samoa and the U.S., we should continue to diversify our tourism industry in order to attract both domestic and foreign carriers who would likely establish direct routes as an international destination. Perhaps, we should also solicit and begin discussions with other U.S. carriers whose hubs have a high population of Samoans living in their metropolitan areas.
It is my understanding that there is an ongoing air transport marketing study that is due at the end of the year. This study is critical in providing the necessary recommendations and feasible solutions in attracting other U.S. carriers and possibly other foreign carriers to our Territory. Air travel is a vital component to our economy and we must work diligently in finding other methods of attracting U.S. and foreign carriers to invest in American Samoa.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by stating, “I look forward to collaborating further with you on this critical issue.”