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Learning to fly in American Samoa

By Adina Solomon

It’s Sunday, and Tony Feist talks with a fishing ship captain, who is on a satellite phone in the Pacific Ocean.

Feist needs to airfreight parts to American Samoa in order to fix the captain’s boat. It costs about US$50,000 (37,550 euros) a day for a fishing boat to sit in port, so he needs to work quickly. Hawaiian Airlines and Pacific Air Cargo, the only airlines that fly to American Samoa, have just three flights a week to the small Pacific island.

“Before that captain is pulling into the port, we’re landing in American Samoa and delivering within an hour and a half of arrival,” Peter Lamy, president of American Worldwide Agencies (AWA), says.

Feist deals with phone calls like this one on a regular basis as president of Island Cargo Support (ICS), which specializes in air and oceanfreight to the Pacific Islands. Los-Angeles-based ICS is a division of freight forwarder AWA.

Both AWA and ICS were founded a year ago.

“The Pacific Islands are such a niche market,” Lamy says. “Basically anything that’s consumed on-island has to get there, and we’re involved in transporting that, whether it be ocean or air.”

ICS has ULDs on every flight into American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 55,000 people. In addition to fishing boats, the company services hospitals, schools, government agencies, relief organizations and family-owned businesses.

ICS also works with StarKist, a producer of seafood products. Its tuna cannery is the largest employer on American Samoa and one of the largest production facilities in the world. Tuna is the island’s main export.

“You’re here in the States, and you have all these luxuries like liquor stores and department stores,” Feist says. “We pretty much have our hand on everything you can think of.”

As a forwarder, ICS does about 90 percent of the airfreight in American Samoa. It’s the largest airfreight forwarder in the island, moving 15 tonnes of air cargo a week.

Feist has been working in freight forwarding with Pacific islands, especially American Samoa, for 15 years. Even though ICS has a monopoly, Feist stresses keeping the market and prices fair for people.

“A lot of companies that do ship in there, to them, it’s just another destination, but for us, it’s everything, so we keep it very fair for our clients,” he says.

Feist takes trips to American Samoa to meet clients in person and even has dinner in their house.

“They’re not your typical clients,” he says.

It takes a special understanding to ship to American Samoa and other islands in the region, Lamy and Feist explain.

“It’s a difficult market for a lot of people,” Lamy says.

For instance, AWA ships to Australia, where there are multiple flights and different ways to route the cargo.

“But for American Samoa, it’s limited and it’s very time-sensitive because not only is it you don’t have a lot of choices, but the cost can go through the roof very quickly on the goods that go down there,” Lamy says. “It’s about consulting the people down there and knowing their needs, whether it’s going to be ocean or air.”

ICS must assemble the goods in Los Angeles from around the U.S. – where most cargo bound for American Samoa originates – provide inventory and then export it.

At ICS, Feist leads a four-person operation that focuses only on the Pacific Islands.

“It doesn’t mix well with general freight forwarding, so having a division strictly dedicated to that market has made a big difference,” Lamy says. “I don’t think the staff at Island Cargo Support could probably do very good on a European market. They wouldn’t know how to sell that or work that, just as I don’t think many people would know how to do [Feist’s] market.”

He says cargo into American Samoa remains consistent because everything on the island must be brought in, and almost all of it is sourced from the U.S.

“They still have to eat. They still have to clothe themselves. They still have to run their businesses. So everything comes in on a regular basis,” Lamy says.

ICS has proven successful. After just a year in business, ICS has tapped out the American Samoan market. Lamy looks to growth on other islands such as Guam, Fiji and Christmas Island – “some of these more difficult islands that your multinationals don’t take a lot of interest in.”

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