Travel to, from and within Micronesia is “among the most expensive in the world,” according to island leaders gathered this week on Guam and pledged to make it their top priority as a group to take steps to lower airfare in the region.

High airfare costs are a roadblock to economic improvement and increased tourism numbers, island leaders said as they wrapped up the 26th Micronesian Islands Forum this week.

They agreed to take various steps to try to cut down on the cost of air transport, and try to train up skilled aviators in the region.

Airing concerns with United Airlines about the carrier’s “excessive rate structure” was listed as the first goal in one of the resolutions signed jointly by Governor Lou Leon Guerrero and the heads of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, and Nauru.

They expressed “disappointment that airline travel in Micronesia is among the most expensive in the world” and urged for an expansion of affordable airline service through the region.

The resolution comes as an online petition asking United to lower airfare racked up nearly 5,000 signatures as of Thursday.

Earlier this week, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine said Micronesian leaders had to “break up the United Airlines monopoly.”

A comment from United Airlines’ corporate office was pending as of press time Thursday. The Pacific Daily News reached out to company representatives on Guam.

Forum members are seeking “fair and reasonable” pricing from United, which will encourage travel to the region. They note that the airline does provide incentivised air rates to encourage air travel in other regions.

According to the United Airlines website, a basic economy roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to New York City, booked three months in advance, costs US$375.

Booking the same class flight with the same departure and return dates between Guam and Saipan is US$306, while a flight from Chuuk to Palau is US$937.

Besides reaching out to United management, Micronesian forum members also resolved to work with U.S regulators on measures that could improve airline service to the region, and to explore partnerships with Nauru, Australia, and Fiji to expand airline services.

In a separate resolution, leaders commit to strategising new routes from current and new airlines to increase affordability. They also agree to work to improve access to affordable aviation-related education.

Notably, Nauru Airlines is expected to expand its growing network of service across Micronesia to include Guam, the PDN reported earlier this week, with officials from the A. B. Won Pat International Airport agreeing to work to secure landing rights for the airline.

Further off, the possibility of a Micronesian airline was also floated as a possible solution by regional leaders during roundtable talks this week.

Besides airfare, leaders also plan to work together to improve cooperation between ports of each forum member, and reduce transportation costs and emissions.

The creation of a Micronesian aviation and maritime task force is recommended for each jurisdiction.
Invasive species

On another front, Micronesian forum members wrote a joint letter to President Joe Biden, asking for support in dealing with various invasive species that have made their way to Micronesian islands.

Federal support to deal with the coconut rhinoceros beetle and invasive ants are singled out.

Leaders also requested for a Department of Defense-funded Regional Biosecurity Plan for Micronesia to be implemented.

Other resolutions dealt with improving the capacity of health care workers in the region, collaborating to get the best deal from telecommunications companies seeking to lay undersea cables, and efforts to get the CNMI, Guam, and American Samoa into the Pacific Islands Forum.