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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (February 27, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)--- The central Pacific nations of Nauru and Kiribati were completely isolated Tuesday following Australia's grounding of state-owned Air Nauru.

The airline was grounded last weekend on safety concerns and an airline official who declined to be named said it may be another week before Air Nauru can fly again.

The airline operates a Boeing 737 out of Nauru and Kiribati, the only regular air service in either country. It also flies to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, as well as New Caledonia, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Philippines.

In a statement the Civil Aviation Safety Authority said Air Nauru had been suspended on February 24.

The grounds included operating an airline "without a head of flying operations in the company and evidence that the aerodrome in Nauru is below acceptable standards for high capacity regular public transport operations.

"CASA believes Air Nauru has failed to maintain a sound and effective management structure and does not have an adequate number of appropriately qualified staff.

"The airline's management has also allowed continued operations into an aerodrome that does not meet regulatory requirements."

The airline sacked its flight operation manager, Tim Gilfillan, last week.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said the airport on Nauru was unsuitable because of regular electricity and communications breakdowns.

He said the Boeing was still in Australia and had been used Monday, as a private aircraft, to fly Nauru officials to Canberra for talks with CASA. They are expected to return later this week with replies to CASA's concerns.

Nauru's President, Bernard Dowiyogo, is among Nauruans caught in Australia with no way to return home.

The airline itself has a colorful past, once flying a fleet of aircraft around the Pacific and often used as a presidential air service. It was subsidized by Nauru's rich phosphate earnings but as these collapsed Nauru corporatized the airline, reduced the fleet and cut back stopovers.

The airport in Nauru is a colorful, if unusual sight with the country's round-the-island road running through it. The aircraft, when it is left there, is parked in a slot in a cliff-face, exposed to the sea meters away.

Nauru is due later this year to host the 16-nation Pacific Forum Summit and the regional Pacific Community meeting. In the past when Forum meetings have been held at difficult to reach locations the New Zealand Air Force has provided transport but this may no longer be acceptable to some leaders.

The Forum summit is being held in Nauru instead of its scheduled venue, Fiji, after New Zealand and Australia protested at holding a meeting with the post-coup government there.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 



By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (February 27, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---Grounded Air Nauru has started refunding tickets at its Guam sales office as the one-plane airline yesterday remained unable to say when it can resume flying.

People who went to Air Nauru's sales office at the Guam Marriott Resort hotel in Tumon yesterday were given refunds or assisted with flight arrangements with alternative airlines.

The airline's Guam office referred media inquiries to Air Nauru public relations staff in Australia.

Helen Bogdan, an Australia-based public affairs consultant for Air Nauru, said by phone that the airline's flights were disrupted beginning Thursday last week because of what she called an ''administrative issue'' over a change in flight operations management. She said there's nothing wrong with the Air Nauru plane.

An Associated Press report from Australia said that the country's Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which has regulatory responsibility for Air Nauru, revoked the airline's operating license because of an unsafe airfield in Nauru and a shortage of experienced staff.

Delegates from Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau headed to an Olympics preparatory conference in Fiji were among passengers stranded on a stopover in Nauru, said Rick Blas, president of the Guam National Olympic Committee. Blas stayed on Guam.

The Guam, FSM and Palau contingent arrived in Nauru Tuesday last week, Blas said. Melissa Fejeran, with the Guam National Olympic Committee, said by e-mail while stranded in Nauru that the flight out of the island republic was at first delayed for 10 hours. When the plane was about to depart, another problem occurred that kept the plane on the ground, according to Fejeran.

The Fiji-bound delegates missed the conference, Blas said. He added that it's a lesson for the Guam National Olympic Committee to hesitate flying on Air Nauru again.

For the stranded GNOC delegates, the experience has been frustrating, Blas said.

''In terms of (the Guam Olympics Committee's) position, we can't afford to be in a situation like this,'' he said.

Remus Capelle, a customer services manager with Air Nauru in the Republic of Nauru, said in a letter to stranded passengers that the airline has been doing all it can to meet the regulatory requirements for the resumption of the airline's commercial flights.

But in the same letter, Capelle also reminded the passengers of the fine print that comes with purchasing a ticket with Air Nauru.

''Air Nauru's policy with regard to disrupted passengers is covered under the conditions of carriage. This states that the airline can without notice cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight without liability except to refund in accordance with its tariff, fare and baggage charges any unused portion of the ticket,'' Capelle wrote.

Two Europeans stranded in Nauru -- Merjam Gelinck and Ray Nicholls -- gave to GNOC a copy of a letter they wrote to the European Embassy in Fiji, stating that refunding tickets is the smallest obligation Air Nauru owes to stranded passengers.

For one, their accommodation at a Nauru hotel was what they described in the letter as far from ideal -- with frequent power and water cuts.

Bogdan expressed regret for the discomfort to passengers. ''I'd like to say we do regret any inconvenience this may have caused,'' she said.

Owned by a Nauru government-owned corporate entity, Air Nauru has been providing a north-south service from Australia to the central Pacific and an east-west service between Fiji, Guam and Manila, according to the airline's Web site. The airline also provides air links to Nauru, Pohnpei, and Tarawa, in Kiribati, and the Australian cities of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

The airline offers often discounted rates and owns a 4-year-old Boeing 737-400 aircraft, according to Pacific Daily News files.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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