By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, July 21) — Majuro international airport’s runway is in danger of being closed to American air carriers if the government can’t come up with more than $10 million to repave the runway.

"We have run out of financing options and the airport is now in danger of being shut down," Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios told a U.S. Senate Committee hearing last week in Washington, D.C.

Three years ago, the Marshall Islands was put on notice by the Federal Aviation Administration of the need to resurface the runway. At the time, the estimated cost was under $10 million.

Zackios told the committee that an engineering study conducted recently by the Marshall Islands now estimates the cost at $10 million to $12 million. Local construction officials peg the cost at closer to $20 million because of continuing deterioration of the runway.

The FAA has said that if the airport runway isn’t fixed soon, it will ban use of the airport by U.S. carriers — which would prevent Continental and Aloha Airlines — which provide six weekly flights connecting the Marshall Islands with Honolulu and four to Guam — from landing.

"If Continental and Aloha must stop services, the Marshall Islands will be physically cut off from Hawaii and Guam, and will disrupt service throughout Micronesia as well as prevent commercial flights to the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll," Zackios said.

He asked the committee for assistance with this "immediate need."

Marshall Islands President Kessai Note also requested Japan’s assistance on the project during a state visit there last month. But Japanese aid takes years to move through the application and approval process, and is unlikely to be available for this urgently needed project.

Late last month, similar problems with the airport runway at Pago Pago, American Samoa, prompted Hawaiian Airlines to suspend flights to the island. Two of its planes suffered damage due to debris on a deteriorating runway.

July 21, 2003

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