Many FSM transportation needs pinned on one small Chinese plane
- Category: News
- Published: Thursday, 21 December 2017 15:41
- Written by Bill Jaynes
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By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
December 13, 2017
FSM—While it is true that the Harbin Y-12 has arrived in the FSM, there has not yet been a country to country presentation of the Chinese donated plane and has not yet been put into service in the FSM. When it is, it is likely to be based in Yap for a variety of reasons. Not the least of those reasons is United’s announced complete abandonment of the Yap to Palau direct flight due to a lack of demand for the flight.
The only remaining route to Yap after January 7 will be through Guam’s airport where travelers must have at least a US transit visa.
United’s announcement has already affected Yap’s economy. According to an article in the Pacific Island Times by Joyce McClure, the Manta Ray Resort, the largest hotel on Yap’s main island has already had booking cancellations for their dive and hotel packages worth $65,000. They expect that amount to at least double as customers learn that their easy flight through Palau will, as of January 7, be much more complicated.
According to McClure’s article, Manta Ray Resort often sends customers to other Yap Hotels when they are full. Those hotels and other small businesses will be hurt as well, as the number of tourists dwindles.
Additionally, United’s announcement means that foreign contract workers in Yap who do not have US transit visas will be left with no travel options.
Some hopes for relief came with the donation of the Harbin Y-12. It’s a small plane with only 17 seats. FSM’s President Peter Christian says that some of those seats will need to be removed in order to make room for luggage making the number of passengers it can carry even fewer. It’s a small plane to be sure but he still hopes that the plane could be used to establish a regular flight to and from Palau. He said that the FSM hopes to bring in a commercial operator to service a new route.
In the meantime, the FSM can authorize Pacific Missionary Aviation (PMA) which currently serves Ulithi and Fais, to fly charter flights to Koror on a case by case basis. One of PMA’s pilots has been trained to fly the Y-12. One of their engineers has also been trained to repair the plane.
President Christian said that PMA is a non-profit organization and the route really should be operated by a commercial operator. He said that Caroline Islands Air (CIA), the State owned airline, also should not be operating the route though CIA’s pilot and engineer, Alex Tretnoff has also been trained both as a pilot of the Y-12 and an engineer for the plane.
Christian insisted that the potential location of the Y-12 in Yap is not at all a plan to undermine or edge out PMA from their operation there.
FSM Chief of Staff Leo Falcam and Master Halbert of the Department of Transportation, Communication, and Infrastructure said that full plans for the use of the Y-12 plane are still in the works with a few minor details to handle.
One of the benefits of basing the plane in Yap is marine surveillance. Falcam said that recently, there has been an increase of unlawful sea activity in the area, whether illegal fishing or human smuggling. FSM Marine Surveillance vessels have been based in Yap on a rotating basis to try to combat the problems. The Y-12 could aid FSM law enforcers in their efforts in the area.
But the plane is not yet being used.
AVIC, the company in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China that made the plane has sent four technicians to Pohnpei as part of the warranty service. They will be in Pohnpei for the next six months. Falcam, an experienced pilot said that there isn’t a problem with the plane and that it is common for new aircraft to be serviced after being built.
President Christian said that the plane has Pratt Whitney engines from Canada and avionics provided by the United States. “The only thing on the plane that is from China is the body,” he said.
President Christian said that another reason the plane had not yet been put into service was resolved this week when Congress approved an allocation of $1.2 million for the purchase of the parts that the company recommends to have on hand for servicing.
There are more plans for the plane than just routes to Palau and back, and marine surveillance. President Christian said that the FSM hopes to have the 3000 foot asphalt runway in Woleai back in service by the end of January. It had been completely overgrown. No planes have landed in Woleai for a long time.
Though the plant life has been cut down on the runway, President Christian wants to have a pilot have a look to see what needs to be done. He said that the FSM received two bids for complete repaving of the Woleai runway but the two contractors who bid on it came back with prices that were far beyond what the FSM could afford. “It could be that they were thinking about paving a 75 foot wide runway,” he said. “It we cut that down to 40 feet it could save a lot of money.”
The rehabilitation of the Woleai runway is part of a developing plan for internal transportation that isn’t currently available. President Christian said that runways in Ta, Onoun, Woleai and other islands in the FSM could provide much better transportation connectivity for people have previously had no alternatives for travel than to go by sea.
There are too many transportation problems in the FSM than one small plane donated by the government of China can solve. No one at the government is saying it on the record but off the record, the hope is that the Chinese government will provide one more.