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State of emergency declared in Marshall Islands after US grounds Micronesian air freight operator

Source: RNZ Pacific

Majuro, MARSHALL ISLANDS — The Marshall Islands President David Kabua has issued a state of emergency declaration to overcome the problems caused by the grounding of the country's cargo airline by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in early February.

The US government agency grounded Micronesian cargo operator Asia Pacific Airlines, also known as Aero Micronesia Inc., due to concerns about unqualified pilots flying the aircraft.

In a statement on February 7, the FAA said "after the company failed to produce records showing that the two individuals who provide proficiency checks for company pilots were properly trained and qualified for the past two years."

"Under the regulations, any flight check provided by these two individuals is invalid, meaning that none of the company's pilots are currently qualified to fly," it added.

The FAA had notified the airline in December that "it was in apparent non-compliance with the regulations and urged the carrier to suspend operations until the matter was resolved."

But the Guam-based airline continued to operate in breach of the FAA order.

RNZ Pacific Marshall Island correspondent Giff Johnson said the decision has caused havoc on the islands, affecting mail delivery and resulting in a shortage of essential medical supplies at the Majuro hospital.

Johnson said the airline's grounding is also impacting on other countries in the Micronesia region.

He said the state of emergency declaration will allow government departments to look for a replacement service "to source alternative air carriers to begin providing cargo services to the Marshall Islands."

"And now with the grounding of Asia Pacific Airlines the countries learned a bit of a lesson about depending on one supplier," he said.

He said the airline issues are one of the factors in the second postponement of the 2023 Micronesian Games which were scheduled for July in Majuro.

The Games, initially put back from last year to this July, are expected to be further postponed to April 2024.

However, the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have been the most significant factor in the delay, according to the Games Council.

RNZ Pacific has contacted the FAA and Marshall Islands government for comment.