Nauru Airlines is expected this month to resume air service linking Brisbane with islands in the central and north Pacific halted two-and-a-half-years ago due to Covid border closures in the region.
Nauru Airlines was the successful bidder for an Australian-government programme that will subsidise the service as it re-launches.
Australian Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Brek Batley said that Nauru Airlines won the tender by Australia’s Pacific Flights Programme earlier in the week. This positions the airline to receive funding from Australia to support it during the initial phases of resuming a service that the airline had operated for decades prior to multiple islands closing their borders in early 2020 to prevent spread of Covid.
Australia’s Pacific Flights Programme was initially established “to help airlines and provide humanitarian aid during Covid,” said Batley, who said Australia supported 450 flights to 10 countries in the region since the pandemic hit in 2020, upending air service. Now, with countries reopening and air travel resuming, the Pacific Flights Programme is focused on supporting air routes where it is needed by subsidising the service so it becomes commercially viable, he said.
“We’re thrilled to work with governments in the region to rebuild these links and put Covid-19 in the rear-view mirror,” Batley said. “This should help families reconnect, business and tourism to grow, and the friendly ties between our nations to deepen even further.”
Australia is supporting two north Pacific air links from Australia: Brisbane-Nauru-Tarawa-Majuro-Pohnpei and Australia-Palau. Nauru Airlines CEO Captain Robert Eoe announced the airline’s intention to resume the Brisbane through to Majuro service on 16 October. Initially, it is anticipated as an every two-week service. Batley said Pohnpei will be added to the service when Nauru Airlines is ready. Once the service to Majuro and Tarawa resumes, it also offers travelers an option to get to Fiji from Nauru.
The focus of the Pacific Flights Program is on the North Pacific due to the lack of air servicing linking these islands with Australia.
The resumption or start of an air service is nearly always a money loser at the outset, said Batley. The Pacific Flights Programme support provides “an opportunity for an airline to do the route with little financial risk,” he said
The Pacific Flights Programme aims to help support a regular service with the goal of it becoming a commercially viable service over time, he said.
In discussions during September with the Marshall Islands Aviation Task Force, a government appointed group of mostly business people, Batley said they looked at three benefits of an air link with Brisbane:
• It allows the Marshall Islands to connect to Australia and from there to Asia and beyond. It also eases bringing in workers from the Philippines or other parts of Asia by avoiding the requirement of needing US visas to briefly transit through Guam to get to Majuro on the only international air carrier currently serving the Marshall Islands, United Airlines.
• Cargo availability opens the door to new food and commodity options for the Marshall Islands market.
• Tourism will be boosted with a directly link to Australia — for both inbound visitors and for residents of Majuro or Kwajalein who want to visit Australia.
Nauru Airlines halted weekly service to Majuro in March 2020 when the country closed its border. The border closure would extend until September 8 this year, following an intense but brief wave of Covid in the country.
During the Covid border closure period, the Marshall Islands Aviation Task Force was in ongoing discussions with Nauru Airlines about resuming service once the border opened, said Majuro Motors owner Anoop Kumar, one of the task force members. He said he and Pacific International CEO Jerry Kramer had been continuously promoting a return to service once the border opened again. “Despite Nauru Airlines suffering financially as any other airlines around the globe suffered from the pandemic, Nauru Airlines was looking to reconnect the north-south destinations,” said Kumar.
Of the 450 Pacific Flights Programme-supported flights in the Pacific, four of these have included Majuro since April this year. Australia has chartered Solomons Air to fly people and Covid aid to Majuro.
“Australia is aware of the importance of air travel connections in the North Pacific,” said Batley, adding the Marshall Islands has few options available. The connection to Brisbane was important prior to Covid and to get restarted now that borders are open.
SOURCE: MARIANAS VARIETY/PACNEWS