Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has again written to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta regarding American Samoa’s need for a temporary airport traffic control tower. In a letter dated March 17, 2005, the Congressman expressed his disappointment in the FAA and its decision to recommend discontinuing air traffic control services for American Samoa. A complete copy of the Congressman’s letter is printed below.
Dear Secretary Mineta:
As a follow-up to my letter of September 15, 2004 regarding American Samoa’s need for a temporary airport traffic control tower, I am writing to express my disappointment in the FAA and its decision to recommend discontinuing air traffic control services for American Samoa. I am particularly concerned that the FAA entered into discussions and made proposals for alternative services without input from those who brought this matter to your attention, including Senator Daniel Inouye and Chairman Don Young, both of whom cosigned my letter to you on September 15, 2004.
It is my understanding that FAA officials recently flew to American Samoa to discuss alternative services and, after the fact, briefed me by way of conference call about two weeks ago. To my knowledge, local officials did not raise the issue of air traffic control services with the FAA and therefore I am concerned that Region IX would try to resolve this matter at the local level when my colleagues and I raised this issue at the federal level. As you know, at my request, Congress appropriated $2 million for a temporary air traffic control tower in American Samoa and I will accept nothing less than the money being used for this purpose.
FAA also informed local officials that as a result of a cost ratio benefit analysis, American Samoa does not qualify for an air traffic control tower and that the local government would have to pay for these services if a temporary air traffic control tower is constructed. At the same time, Region IX has failed to tell local officials that every other State and Territory has an air traffic control tower and that no other insular area has to help the federal government pay for these services.
In view of the FAA’s conduct and the misinformation it is spreading, I am requesting that the FAA consult with my office until this matter is favorably resolved. As I mentioned in my previous letter, the existing Pago Pago (PPG) air traffic control tower was established in America Samoa in the mid-1970s. The tower was located on top of the airport fire station which is owned by the American Samoa Government (ASG). The fire station was structurally condemned. A new facility is under construction and, in early 2001, the FAA was informed that by January 2005 the tower would have to be demolished.
For four years, or from 2001 to present, the FAA debated about whether or not it would build a permanent tower at a cost of $13 million to replace PPG’s existing tower and all necessary engineering and design plans have been completed. At the same time, the FAA made plans to establish a temporary tower at a cost of $2 million until a decision could be made about whether or not to establish the permanent tower. The FAA set-aside $800,000 and sent a tower cab to American Samoa. As a result of the FAA’s continued indecision, the tower cab deteriorated and was further destroyed in a recent cyclone. Now, the FAA has determined that it will not construct a permanent tower or a temporary tower and is recommending that American Samoa rely on advisory statements from the Independent State of Samoa.
The FAA is also recommending that in the years to come, American Samoa should become entirely responsible for providing its own air traffic control services. As the FAA sees it, it would provide American Samoa with equipment and training with the expectation that American Samoa would one day train its own to manage air traffic control at PPG. The rationale for the FAA’s proposal is that American Samoa does not have enough air traffic to justify the federal government’s investment in an air traffic control tower or services.
I cannot and will not accept the FAA’s rationale and I will not accept a cost ratio benefit analysis that disadvantages American Samoa. This said, I intend to introduce legislation which will take into account American Samoa’s remote location, small population, and single-industry economy which is more than 80% dependent on two U.S. tuna canneries. I also intend to ask for a full review of Region IX’s fiscal management plan to determine if the Region is cash-strapped and, if so, how it can save money in other areas so as not to have to rob American Samoa of its due allotment. Quite frankly, I am not persuaded by the FAA and its arguments and I will not support its attempts to marginalize American Samoa by implementing a policy which will scale down FAA presence in the Territory.
As you know, in 1974, at a time when American Samoa was forced to rely on advisory statements, a Pan Am flight crashed in the Territory killing 97 people. However, American Samoa has not had any plane crashes since the construction and use of the existing air traffic control tower and, in order to help maintain that safety record, I am again respectfully requesting your consideration and support for the construction of a temporary tower which has an operational life expectancy of between 10-12 years. As Senator Inouye and Chairman Young agree, this would be a preferable option as opposed to relying on advisory statements from foreign countries.
Congress has appropriated the money for this purpose and I expect the money to be used only for this purpose. I cannot accept anything less than the construction of a temporary air traffic control tower in American Samoa.
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA
Member of Congress
“As a result of this letter, I am hopeful that Secretary Mineta will personally intervene and support my request for the construction of a temporary airport traffic control tower. I am also hopeful that he will put a halt to any plans the FAA has to place the safety of the people of American Samoa at risk. Budget cuts must not supersede the safety of our people and I will do everything I can to make sure that the people of American Samoa are protected,” the Congressman concluded.