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No permit breach by Pago Wings, says Samoa minister of aviation

Pago Wings plane on the runway
Compiled by Samoa News staff

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Samoa Civil Aviation Minister Olo Fiti Va’ai says a Pago Wings flight from American Samoa to Samoa did have an appropriate landing permit despite reports from regional media that says otherwise.

Pago Wings is owned by Papaalii Laulii Alofa and his wife Wanda Alofa.

Reports questioned whether the June 19, 2024, flight from Pago Pago to Apia Faleolo complied with local laws, but Olo said it was a charter flight that had received the right charter permit, according to ch-aviation, whose core business is providing data services to a wide range of companies in the airline industry.

Pago Wings, attempting to start an on-demand charter operation around American Samoa as a precursor to scheduled flights, had been accused of breaching local flight regulations before.

Earlier this year, it was alleged the carrier had improperly operated charter flights between the American Samoan islands of Tutuila/ Pago Pago and Manu’a, sparking a US FAA investigation into whether it had illegally conducted Part 135 flights. Pago Wings cooperated with that investigation and ch-aviation understands that the operation expects it to be concluded shortly with no action taken.

The owners of Pago Wings also own Pacific Air Charters (Honolulu). It is understood they plan to start operations around American Samoa using a fleet of Tecnam P2012s.

Pago Wings currently leases four of them (with a further two possible within the next 12 months), which are presently sub-leased by Pacific Air Charters.

It is alleged that the American Samoa-owned airline that was granted a landing permit to Samoa over two weeks ago does not have a “Certificate of Authority” from the Air Traffic Organization.

According to ch-aviation this detail came to light in an application submitted by Pacific Air Charters to the United States Department of Transportation for commuter authority.

Pacific Air Charters Inc. a Hawaiian company, is owned by the Alofas who also own Pago Wings.

The application states that the aircraft (N1202P Tecnam Traveller, a nine-passenger aircraft) which traveled to Samoa over two weeks ago after obtaining a "landing permit" from Samoa's Ministry of Works and Transport is owned by Pago Wings and leased to Pacific Air Charters.

Pacific Air Charters submitted their application for commuter authority to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation last month.

The application mentioned that Aerial Holdings LLC, the previous sole shareholder, sold the Hawaii-based company's shares to the Alofas.

Papali’i Lauli’i holds 25 per cent of the shares, whereas Mrs. Alofa owns 75 per cent.

The application also highlighted that Pacific Air Charters has no subsidiaries and is a "brother-sister" corporation with Pago Wings LLC and Paramount Builders Inc., all owned by the Alofas. 

The application requested permission to operate scheduled passenger services as a commuter air carrier under 49 USC 4178.

The application acknowledged an ongoing Federal Aviation Administration investigation into claims that Pago Wings LLC, Paramount Builders Inc., and three Pacific Air Charters pilots conducted "illegal" (Part 135) flights.

The investigation began after Samoa Airways, a local and national carrier, filed a complaint with the FAA about the flights earlier this year.

According to the Samoa Observer newspaper, the information was confirmed by Fauo’o Fatu Tielu, the Interim Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Airways.

The investigation focuses on non-revenue flights in American Samoa in January and whether they were conducted under Part 91 or Part 135, as well as if Pago Wings LLC (without a Certificate of Authority) conducted them.

Pacific Air Charters stated that they have cooperated with the investigations and expect them to conclude soon.

Responding to queries from Radio Samoa, Olo criticized the Samoa Observer's coverage of the issue as rushed and lacking thorough investigation.

"First of all, this is exactly why I am reluctant to be interviewed by media such as that," Olo remarked, addressing the newspaper’s publication on the matter.

Regarding the chartered flight itself, Olo clarified, "It was a charter flight that received a charter permit. Remember the chartered flights from China by Hainan Airlines, this flight operates under the same conditions."

Furthermore, Olo disclosed ongoing negotiations with ASG to reinstate an Air Service Agreement between the two countries. 

This agreement, previously halted in 2019, would streamline the process for flights between Samoa and American Samoa, potentially eliminating the need for individual landing permits.

According to guidelines outlined on the Ministry’s website, obtaining a landing permit involves comprehensive documentation for non-scheduled flights. Requirements include details such as aircraft operator information, flight specifics, and certification of airworthiness. Fees for charter flights are regulated, with strict limits on the number of operations within defined periods.

Earlier this year, concerns were raised during legislative sessions about the release of Pago Wings' aircraft without full payment of excise taxes.

Reports indicate that upon arrival, the aircraft lacked proper customs clearance from Hawaii and FAA documentation, leading to intervention from “higher authorities” to facilitate its release.

FlightRadar24 data shows the aircraft was tracked ferrying to Pago Pago on September 29, 2023.