Marshallese turn to ships for travel as airline struggles
Domestic air travel in the Marshall Islands remains limited with both local planes grounded waiting for spare parts.
Domestic air travel in the Marshall Islands remains limited with both local planes recently grounded, waiting for spare parts.
Our correspondent, Giff Johnson, told Jenny Meyer more people are resorting to sea travel as Air Marshall Islands continues to struggle to maintain its planes and runways.
GIFF JOHNSON: A very interesting report also has come out very recently showing a dramatic decline in the number of passengers flying to and from the outer islands. Partly this is people migrating out from the outer islands but it also reflects unreliability of service and people switching to ships. And even the ships have their issues with regularity but I think as the airline has proved to be extremely unreliable because of it's difficulty in purchasing parts and keeping the planes on schedule, people have shifted more and more to using ships and boats; which is kind of going back forty years before we had airplanes and all we had was ships in order for people to get in from these widely dispersed outer islands in to Majuro and Kwajalein the two main centres. So it's been a real ongoing challenge for the airline to maintain its service and it's really showing now in the passenger traffic.
JENNY MEYER: When do you expect that these flights will be up and running and that services will be returned to normal?
GJ: One plane is back in the air but it's the larger of the two planes that Air Marshall Islands has and it can only go to certain runways; so it's only able to service very few runways here. And the plane, the smaller plane which can go into all the outer island runways isn't expected to be up and flying probably until early May. Over the past couple of years this has just been the pattern; you know the plane will be flying for a bit and then it's grounded for a week or two waiting for parts. And then because the airline doesn't have money they have to get a special subsidy from the national government to buy the part which is what has happened in the situation that is going on right now. Then they get those in but in the mean time they're not making any money because they're not flying. It's just a very, very negative financial cycle for the airline.
JM: And what about the runways? You said they're in a poor state of repair. Are there any plans to fix those so that the planes are not so damaged from rough landings and that kind of thing?
GJ: The Japanese government has recently approved a grant which is said to be going to purchase equipment that will be used for outer island airport runway improvements. So if that all moves forward as it's been outlined then that could be really good.
Giff Johnson says domestic ocean travel has improved recently with Japanese investment in two new vessels servicing the outer islands.
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