Flight service to Guam is a “top priority” for Nauru Airlines as the carrier continues to expand its routes across Micronesia, a representative of the Nauru government told regional leaders gathered on Guam Monday.

Nauru Airlines is the national carrier for the Republic of Nauru.

Special Envoy for Nauru Maverick Eoe spoke during the opening of the 26th Micronesian Island Forum held at Hyatt Regency Guam.

Day one of the forum drew nearly 300 regional leaders and participants.

Island leaders highlighted the continued high air transport costs across Micronesia as a cause for concern, pointing out that expanded flight service from Nauru Airlines is a positive development.

President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands went as far stating that Micronesian leaders “must be united in our solidarity and break up the United Airlines monopoly in our region.”

Eoe highlighted a number of new routes connecting Nauru to Micronesia and Australia.

Nauru Airlines has launched an island hopper route linking Nauru to Kiribati, Majuro, Pohnpei, and Palau, and most recently launched a direct flight from Brisbane to Palau.

Flight services foster economic growth, tourism and cultural enhancement across the region, Eoe said, “fortifying the fabric of our unified Micronesian family.”

Notably, the increased investment of Nauru Airlines in flight services across Micronesia coincides with the island nation’s induction last year as the newest member of the Micronesia Islands Forum.

“Nauru hopes to expand its air service to go on to connect our Micronesian family to explore new development opportunities within our region,” Eoe said, with Guam up next on the list.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero told Eoe that she would “work very closely” with Nauru to make that connection a reality.

Leon Guerrero said she believes landing rights for Nauru Airlines on Guam, held over from when the airline previously flew to Guam, are still intact.

The airline late last year was tentatively granted a foreign air carrier permit by the U.S Department of Transportation, to run cargo and passenger flight services to Guam and Honolulu.

An application from the airline to the DOT noted it had initial plans to run a single, round-trip flight between Nauru and Guam each week, with stops at Tarawa, Majuro, and Pohnpei.

Two Boeing 737 planes with a capacity for 120 and 116 passengers were considered for the route.

Another flight connecting Nauru to Honolulu with stops in Majuro, Tarawa, and Kiritimati was considered for later activation.

Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) President Wesley Simina said the FSM was glad to see Nauru Airlines now offering an alternative route to Australia through Palau.

Simina said he wanted to see the route expanded through Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap, and air transport hubs in Hawaii and Guam.

Marshall Islands’ Heine on Monday said air transport is a “critical component” to connectivity across Micronesia, but remains one of the biggest challenges.

“Soaring airfares are likely to remain, which means higher inflation rates, higher cost of living and zero future for international tourism,” she said.

Palau Vice President Uduch Sengebau Senior said Nauru Airlines presented new opportunities to connect Australia and New Zealand to the region.

Senior said increased cost of living had “ravaged our economies” post-COVID-19 pandemic, and regional partnerships are needed to grow tourism beyond previous levels.

Guam’s Leon Guerrero, the newly elected chairperson of the Micronesian Island Forum, said the leaders intend to strengthen Micronesia and advocate for the people and islands on the world stage “as we face climate change and geopolitical tensions.”

“Our hope is that the bonds between us as leaders grow stronger and that our alliances also turn into lasting friendships. Our islands may be small, but we are not. Like the Pacific Ocean, our resources are many, and our strength is great. Hand-in-hand, let us charge ahead to our destiny together,” the Guam governor said in a statement.