By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Dec. 1) — The Marshall Islands is seeking funding support from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to repave its main international runway — renovation work that could cost up to $23 million.

The Marshall Islands Airport Authority has completed a grant application for the FAA’s "airport improvement program" and government official Robert Muller said he will be delivering it to officials in Washington early next week.

Up until recently, the Marshall Islands was not eligible for this FAA airport fund. But the U.S. Congress has reinstated the Marshall Islands eligibility to apply for funding in a new law.

One of the reasons that the Congress has restored the Marshall Islands’ eligibility to apply for funding is that airline tickets purchased in the Marshall Islands for Continental and Aloha airlines include fees that are deducted to fund the FAA’s airport improvement fund.

"We researched it and found out that deductions are being made from tickets purchased in the Marshall Islands for the airport improvement fund," said Muller. "This was one of the factors in the Congress deciding to reinstate our eligibility."

The estimated cost for resurfacing only the Majuro international airport runway is about $12 million, he said. Rehabilitation of the taxi way and the runway apron will add about $11 million to the cost.

"The main safety issue is the runway," Muller said, adding that the Marshall Islands is hopeful that the FAA will fund the entire project.

The FAA airport improvement program is this central Pacific nation’s number one funding option, Muller indicated. "The FAA is aware of the problem and they’re keen to help out," he said. The FAA’s fund provides 90 percent of the funding, with the local match amounting to just 10 percent of the overall cost.

Marshall Islands Airport Authority director Jack Chong Gum said that the FAA hasn’t made any follow up visits to assess the runway since its trip in 2001, when the need to resurface the runway was identified as a priority by the FAA.

"Everyone is monitoring the runway situation," Chong Gum said. "We do weekly runway sweeps."

Every time airport crews sweep the runway, they come up with small rocks and aggregate. "It means it’s not getting better," he said of the condition of the runway. "The condition of the surface will continue to deteriorate."

Airline crews are also involved in checking the condition of the Majuro runway, Chong Gum said.

December 1, 2003

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