The US Department of Transportation has awarded an exemption to Samoa's Talofa Airways (Apia Faleolo) to provide domestic flights between Pago Pago and airports in the Manu'a Islands in American Samoa.

The Samoan carrier said it was planning to launch 2x daily, weekday-only services from October 26, 2020, using a Turbo Commander 690B. It did not elaborate as to which airports in the Manu'a Islands (Ofu, Fitiuta, or Tau) it was planning to serve. It has yet to launch sales for the American Samoan operations on its website.

The exemption was granted on a trial basis for a period of 30 days, through November 24, 2020.

Domestic services within American Samoa are currently operated by Samoa Airways (OL, Apia Faleolo) using DHC-6-300s, although they have been suspended since July 2020 due to the COVID-related restrictions. The DOT noted that the reliability of these services was underwhelming. The Senate of American Samoa formally requested Talofa Airways to seek an exemption and enter its domestic market in March 2019 to provide more competition.

"We were persuaded that the longstanding absence of US carrier passenger service in the market at issue, along with the assertions made on the record by multiple representatives of the Government of American Samoa that an additional foreign air carrier’s services are necessary to meet the critical transportation needs of American Samoa, constitute an emergency created by unusual circumstances not arising in the normal course of business," the DOT said.

The exemption will become void in the event a US-based carrier looks to serve the routes, although, as the DOT itself admitted, this seems unlikely at this point. No US-based airline has been serving the domestic routes within American Samoa since the collapse of Inter Island Airways (Pago Pago) in 2014.

Talofa Airways also plies the Pago Pago-Apia Faleolo route, and connects both Apia and Pago Pago to Tongatapu.