AIR KIRIBATI CONNECTS HONOLULU AND CHRISTMAS ISLAND

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By Al Hulsen

HONOLULU, Hawaii (August 13,1997 - PIDP/CPIS)---Air Kiribati flight 505 took off from Honolulu International Airport's reef runway just after sunrise this morning, inaugurating weekly air service to remote Christmas Island, a Micronesian outpost located almost 1,400 miles south of Hawaii and just above the Equator.

The chartered Kiribati government flight, using a Honolulu-based Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 specially modified for extended over-ocean travel, carried a dozen or so legitimate tourists who were primarily interested in the island's sport of bonefishing. Most of the passengers, however, were guests of the Kiribati government and Aloha Airlines. They were on board to help celebrate the return of regularly-scheduled air service to Kiribati's second largest population center after a hiatus of several months.

The capital of Tarawa, some 2,000 miles away, is Kiribati's most populous atoll.

Three hours after departing Honolulu, the two-engine jet touched down on the most developed of two runways originally built by British engineers a half-century ago.

On hand to greet the inaugural flight were Christmas Island's most talented singers, dancers and orators, dressed in traditional pandanus clothing and flowers of the tropics.

Government officials included Timbo Keariki, Minister for Line and Phoenix Islands Development --Christmas Island is the capital of the Northern Line Islands group-- and Emile Schutz, Minister of Public Works and Energy.

Offering a special welcome was Kiribati Vice President Tewareke Tentoa, who said he expects the new air link to contribute significantly to the economic development of Christmas Island and, in turn, all of Kiribati.

Tourism and expansion of Japan's existing National Space Development Agency tracking and monitoring station activities hold particular promise for the atoll, together with saltwater tropical fish exports and an expanding tuna fishing industry.

Officials noted that agreements have been reached with Japan's giant Mitsubishi organization to start construction of a new 200-room hotel, complementing the modest Captain Cook Hotel, to serve both an anticipated increased number of Japanese space project workers and tourists from Hawaii and elsewhere across the globe.

The re-establishment of scheduled, although charter, air service to the world's second largest atoll, stretching some 100 miles, follows a series of failed aviation efforts over the past two decades, including the Kiribati government's collapsed Air Tungaru, Air Nauru, Air Marshall Islands, and, most recently, Hawaii-based Coral Pacific Airlines.

Christmas Island, whose population has expanded to almost 4,000 in recent years in communities with such names as London, Paris, Poland, and Banana, was the site of British atomic testing following World War II. Little of that era remains, although it is one of the runways constructed in the 1950s that made today's Air Kiribati jet flight between Honolulu and Christmas Island possible.

Aloha Airlines Vice President for Planning and Development, who attended the inaugural with Joan Plaisted, US Ambassador to the Marshall Islands, and other regional dignitaries, says the weekly flights will depart Honolulu every Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. and return to Hawaii by 1:00 p.m. the same day. Total round-trip flying time, including a one-hour layover, is seven hours. Because Kiribati has moved the International Date Line to the extreme eastern part of the country, however, the time in Christmas Island actually is a full 24 hours ahead of Honolulu time.

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