CONTINENTAL MICRONESIA CUTBACK WORRIES MARSHALLS

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (February 9, 1998 - Marshall Islands Journal)--- Continental Micronesia has announced that it will be cutting one of three weekly flights to and from the Marshall Islands, a plan that could hurt a growing scuba dive operation at Bikini Atoll and is worrying the business community in Majuro.

The expected reduction in Continental flights from the current three was confirmed by airline officials with the Guam-based airline, the only carrier connecting the Marshalls with Guam and Honolulu. The reduction in flights is expected to start on April 1.

Local businesses, particularly those involved in tourist-related activities, expressed great concern about the impact of fewer flights servicing the Marshall Islands.

Continental station manager John Hawley added that Continental Micronesia has already started pulling out of a number of Asian destinations, including Seoul, South Korea, and is looking at dropping Taipei, Taiwan from its schedule. Flights into Saipan also have been reduced.

During the early 1990s, Continental provided four weekly flights to and from Majuro. That was reduced to three in 1995 when Air Marshall Islands was providing the first ever competition on the Honolulu-Majuro route. Air Marshalls has since canceled its jet service to Honolulu because of heavy losses.

Outrigger Marshall Islands Resort general manager Laverne Salvador said that the hotel's marketing strategy for 1998 is based on an anticipated three to four percent growth in visitor arrivals and no further loss of seats to Guam and Hawaii. "The loss of any seats is going to be detrimental to achieving our marketing goals," she said.

Robert Reimers Enterprises chief operations officer Peter Fuchs said if the cutback in Continental service is accompanied by a dedicated freight service from another airline, it could have positive outcomes. Marshalls government officials have been negotiating with Aloha Airlines to launch service ever since Air Marshall Islands canceled its jet flights to Hawaii in early 1996. But nothing is definite yet, and Fuchs added that any cutback in Continental service will hurt both the company's clam exports to the U.S. and the expanding scuba dive program at Bikini Atoll. The local business exports thousands of clams monthly to U.S. aquarium and tropical fish distributors in the U.S. "We were told by Continental officials that we won't be able to ship on Wednesday flights (to Honolulu) soon because that flight is going to be dropped," Fuchs said.

The reduction in flight service could directly impact the growing scuba dive business at Bikini Atoll, now about to open its third season for diving. A Rodale Press reader poll featured on its Internet web page recently listed Bikini's lagoon as the second most dreamed about destination by scuba divers, behind only Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Local officials confirm the overseas interest in the dozens of World War II battleships on Bikini's lagoon floor.

"We have people pre-booked to Bikini through 1999," said chief executive officer Ramsey Reimers. The Bikini visits are based on a Wednesday night departure back to Honolulu, the flight Continental is planning to cut off.

"It could throw a wrench into the program," Reimers added.

MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com Fax: 692-625-3136 Tel. 692-625-8143 Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year: US $87.00; International $227.00 (air mail)

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