Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that on Tuesday July 25, 2006 he met with key FAA officials including Robert Sturgell, Deputy Administrator; Deborah Johnson, Director of Terminal Planning; Bruce Johnson, VP for Terminal Services; and Howard Swancy, Senior Advisor to the Administrator, regarding the $2 million he set aside for the construction of a temporary airport tower. Many of these officials were the same FAA officials that Governor Togiola met with during his last visit to Washington.
“During the meeting, FAA officials informed me that ASG has not submitted a formal request to build an airport tower with the $2 million Congressional set aside. FAA officials said that the Governor mostly discussed Hawaiian Air and briefly inquired about the $2 million and was informed that the FAA could consider an agreement if there is consensus between our offices,” Faleomavaega said.
“Since this time, it is my understanding that the FAA has not heard further from the Governor although on July 20, 2006 Samoa News reported that Governor Togiola wrote to Senate President Lolo M. Moliga on July 10th and said he is moving forward with building an air traffic control tower. As reported by Samoa News, the Governor also said he does not know how my position may affect his project.”
“To more fully address the Governor’s concerns, I think it would be helpful to first know what the Governor’s project is. Since the FAA has not received a project proposal from the Governor and since I have not either, it appears that the Governor is pursuing his project at the local level without federal assistance.”
“Neverthelesss, if the Governor wishes to pursue the $2 million that has been set aside by Congress to build an airport tower, then I would be pleased to inform him how my plans might affect his proposed project. First, the FAA has made it very clear that if it transfers the $2 million to our local government for the construction of a local airport tower, ASG will become fully responsible for funding the operations and maintenance of the tower. Furthermore, if the tower does not meet FAA standards, then the FAA will shut it down.”
“I have deep concerns about this and I question what purpose it will serve to build a tower if ASG does not have the funds to operate or maintain it. This is why my position on this matter has been very clear from the beginning. I believe in safety first. And I believe safety for our people means having FAA presence in American Samoa.”
“For this reason, I have been aggressively pursuing legislative options which would help us maintain FAA presence especially with advisory services and eventually a temporary or permanent tower. But for the time being, American Samoa no longer qualifies because we do not have enough air traffic to meet the threshold of the cost-benefit analysis as defined by federal law.”
“With the loss of our tower due to limited air traffic, airport advisory services started at Pago Pago on January 5, 2005 as FAA staff worked with ASG to ensure continuous airport services. As a result of Tuesday’s meeting, I have now learned from the FAA that ASG was informed last year in a letter dated May 19, 2005 that it would lose advisory services on September 30, 2006. Regrettably, according to the FAA, ASG does not have a transition plan in place and has not renewed its contract with the current advisory services provider citing that it cannot afford to pay the $300,000 contract.”
“Upon learning of this serious situation, I contacted William C. Withycombe, Regional Administrator for the Western-Pacific Region, on July 26, 2006 and I followed up with a letter to Mr. Withycombe dated July 27, 2006 which I have copied to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the President of the Senate and Senators, the Speaker and Representatives.
“In my letter, I state:
Regardless of whether or not ASG does or does not have the funds to ensure the safety of our traveling public, I do not believe ASG should have to assume this financial burden. American Samoa is a US Territory and it is imperative that we have FAA presence and assistance. For this reason, I am requesting your assistance in extending our advisory services for another year which I believe will give us the necessary time we need to find a legislative solution in Congress.
Based upon your conversation yesterday with my office in which my serious concerns were expressed to you, I am encouraged that you have agreed in principle to consider my request for an extension of our advisory services. Considering how critical these services are, I have copied the Governor and our Fono and I am hopeful that they will also write to you and request an extension of advisory services to protect our traveling public.
“Considering that we are facing a serious situation which will require a united effort on our part to resolve, I remain committed to working with the Governor and Fono to find the best solution possible to protect the long-term interests of our traveling public. I am confident that the Governor and the Fono are also committed to working cooperatively,” Faleomavaega concluded.