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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (April 2, 1999 - Marshall Islands Journal)---The NATO bombing raids in Yugoslavia are halfway around the world from the Pacific, but they are causing delays in an airline deal affecting two north Pacific island nations.

Aloha Airlines is preparing to launch its first air service to the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia, but the Honolulu-based airline is running into bureaucratic delays within the Defense Department in its effort to get action from the military on required refueling stops at Johnston Island, a military installation located midway between Honolulu and the two island countries, according to an Aloha executive in Honolulu.

When Pentagon officials announced approval for refueling stopoffs at Johnston six weeks ago, Aloha officials said they could have the service up and running by May. But that target date is quickly disappearing in a Defense Department bureaucracy which is complicated by U.S. involvement in the Yugoslavia bombing raids.

Aloha’s vice president for marketing and planning Jim King said that "although the green light has been given at the Secretary of Defense level, there seems to be a disconnect between there and the people who actually have to make it happen." With the Defense Department focused on the NATO military action, implementation of Aloha's landing rights at Johnston doesn't appear to be on the military's radar screen, King indicated.

King has spoken with the Johnston commanding officer and with officials in Washington who oversee the Johnston installation, which is in the final stages of a program to destroy World War II-vintage nerve gas. "Both are aware of the issue but have not been given any direction," King said. "As a result of this delay, a May startup is beginning to slip away."

But, he added, Aloha is moving forward with completing air service agreements with both the Marshall Islands and Micronesian governments, and with internal airline preparations "so we will not be starting from zero once (Defense Department) approvals are received."

When Aloha does start its air service into this remote area of the Pacific, it will be the first U.S.-based carrier in 13 years to compete with Continental Micronesia's monopoly hold on the route.

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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