Palau seeks direct air links with PNG

Islands Business:

May 2014

Micronesia decries poor air connections

One northern Pacific state has almost secured what has been a remote aviation dream shared by many of its small island neighbours - to get to its larger South Pacific island neighbours at as short a time and distance as possible.

Palau is in Air Services Agreement (ASA) negotiations with Papua New Guinea as it gears up to host a number of important meetings this year including the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Summit meeting that begins on 29 July.

Olkeriil Kazuo, Assistant Press Secretary in Palau’s Presidential office told Islands Business he’s hopeful the agreement would be signed soon.

The plan is for Palau-bound delegates to fly from Port Moresby to Koror instead of doing the longer expensive hop to the north east transiting in either Japan, Guam or Hawaii.

Kazuo said Palau would also host several anniversary celebrations this year, namely the 20th anniversary of its Compact of Free Association with the United States, its 20th anniversary of special relationship with Japan and its 15th anniversary of good relations with Taiwan.

Kazuo who attended this year’s Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) meeting in Noumea in February was successful in securing Palau’s bid to host the next PINA convention in 2016.

To get to Noumea he had to fly for two days making stops in Guam, Sydney then Cairns before arriving in Noumea - a trip that cost him US$4000.

“This has long been a much needed route upon the elimination of the Guam-Fiji route by Continental Airlines. Since then, traveling to the South Pacific takes nearly 2 days of flight connections.”

Whilst Palau does not have its own airline, Continental Airlines, China Airlines, Delta, and Asiana Airlines fly there. “The proposed ASA (with PNG) has been sent back after negotiations for some very minor detail adjustments and should be signed very soon,” he said.

“No airline has been designated to provide this vital air link officially.” At last year’s Association of South Pacific Airlines (ASPA) meeting, a high-powered delegation from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) was desperately seeking a better ASA with island nations in the South Pacific in the hope that it would alleviate their worsening air transport woes.

It also takes an average FSM traveller almost two days to fly out of the northern Pacific to the southern Pacific, island hopping through to Honolulu to catch a flight to Nadi, Fiji.
FSM member of Congress Senator Peter Christian said they had submitted an ASA to the Fijian Government and Fiji has responded to their request.

“Now we will take this back to our government to prepare its response to our initial request,” he said.

“It is definitely something we will push to implement.” Christian accompanied by a number of top level delegates from his country at the ASPA meeting said it was more reasonable to come through Fiji. “For us we think and would wonder why the airlines would not want their footprint in Micronesia but maybe it’s a financial issue for them.”

Christian believed viability of the route would improve if cargo business is factored into the equation, and not passenger traffic only.

He said the FSM imports a lot of goods from China and countries in Southeast Asia.

At the ASPA meeting, his delegation met representatives of Air Niugini and Our Airline.

A better connection to Fiji for countries like the FSM was closed when Fiji suspended direct Tarawa to Nadi flights of Nauru’s Our Airline in 2011.

Fijian authorities cited operational concerns like reservations, insurance and the airline’s air operating certificate for the suspension.

This route would have provided an alternative doorway to the south for islanders in the northern Pacific.

Currently Continental Airlines provides the only international air service connections to these northern Pacific islands but the flight does a hop between a number of islands before it reaches the FSM.

At times, the flights are full and passengers have to wait for the next flight out.

Senator Christian said they were interested in securing another airline in addition to Continental to address their travel connections to the rest of the Pacific.

“Continental is a single provider right now and whilst their service is fine, we want to see whether we can find other airlines as we have business in Fiji with the United Nations agencies and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community offices.” He described as “reserved” the response from the various airlines they had approached.

ASPA Secretary General George Faktaufon said whilst he was not aware of the Palau and PNG talks, it did not come as a surprise to him because such a route used to exist some years ago.

“Such a connection for Palau and Micronesia would be shorter coming through Port Moresby than if it comes through Nadi,” he said.

He said he was also not aware of any progress in bilateral air service discussions pursued between the FSM and Fiji last year.

“Discussions with the airlines have not produced any new developments because the market is so thin, therefore there is that element of subsidy which is not very attractive to FSM so airlines are reluctant to pursue further discussions.” 

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