By Paul Spijkers - http://www.airliners.net/photo/Asia-Pacific-Airlines/Boeing-727-212-Adv(F)/0530066/L/, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17198731

A bitter battle is heating up in the wilds of the Pacific between airlines wishing to carry US mail.

In March, Guam-based carrier Asia Pacific Airlines (APA) was grounded by the FAA, cutting off essential services and causing the Marshall Islands to declare a state of emergency.

As mail and medicines began to pile up in Honolulu and Guam, talks began with United Airlines and Nauru Airlines, the flag carrier of island republic Nauru, which then applied for a foreign air carrier permit to fly US government mail and cargo.

It had won a permit from the US in 2017, but “due to Covid and other reasons” had failed to start the service and the permit expired. Having no aviation authority of its own, it “submitted itself to the aviation regulatory authority of Australia”.

Nauru wants to operate “two or three cargo flights a week” between Guam and Nauru and one passenger trip, starting in the third quarter, using a 737-800SF and a 737-300SF. It added that, at a later date, it would offer flights to Honolulu from the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.

However, APA, also known as Aero Micronesia, and which operates between Honolulu and Guam, resumed operations on 4 May and has strongly objected to Nauru’s application.

APA told the US Department of Transportation “it appears to be an attempt by a foreign carrier to acquire blanket fifth-freedom authority to carry US government mail and cargo in markets where lift is readily available by US commercial carriers like Asia Pacific Airlines”.

It alleged: “Nauru Airlines’ application also appears incomplete, specifically missing certain information related to recent operations it conducted this year in apparent violation of department and US Postal Service statutory requirements … Nauru Airlines is wholly foreign-government owned, raising additional concerns over a foreign government overseeing US mail carriage to Pacific Islands, which have critical US national security and military assets.”

It claims Nauru did not have permission to carry US mail, “even in an emergency”, adding: “If Nauru Airlines provided transportation of US mail and cargo on behalf of United, it also apparently did so without requisite department authority to engage in codesharing, which is in violation of both USPS and department statutes.”

APA also noted: “Under the Fly America Act, cargo transportation services funded by the US federal government, which includes US military cargo, must use a US air carrier.”

It concluded: “Asia Pacific has returned to service and there is no emergency to justify a drastic break with statutory requirements and longstanding department policy.”

Until the ban, APA operated more than 60 flights a month, supporting the Marshall Islands as well as Micronesia, American Samoa and Palau. According to the FAA, APA had “failed to produce records showing that the two individuals who provide proficiency checks for company pilots were properly trained and qualified for the past two years”.

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