United Airlines suspended all air service to the Marshall Islands capital, Majuro, Wednesday this week for an indefinite period, citing unsafe conditions in the airport terminal building, pictured, that a two-year-old engineering report said is at "high risk" for collapse. Photo by Giff Johnson

MAJURO  (MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL) — Lack of action on a two-year-old engineering evaluation that warned Majuro’s airport terminal roof was a “high risk” for collapse resulted this week in a halt to all United Airlines flights into and out of Majuro, effectively cutting off passenger travel from the capital to the outside world.

United is the only international carrier servicing the Marshall Islands, but will still fly to Kwajalein. The scheduled Wednesday and Thursday United “Island Hopper” flights connecting Majuro with Honolulu and Guam were cancelled and future flights are suspended for an indefinite period.

United notified Marshall Islands authorities Tuesday evening that due to safety concerns for employees and customers for continued use of the airport terminal building that was originally built in 1972, the airline was suspending regular service to Majuro.

While initially Asia Pacific Airlines mail, cargo and tuna export flights were also in question, it appeared Wednesday that the regularly scheduled APA flight this Friday will happen.

As United’s notice Tuesday evening made its way to Majuro officials, Marshall Islands Ports Authority’s newly appointed Acting CEO Larry Hernandez called an emergency meeting Wednesday morning at Amata Kabua International Airport or AKIA. It involved many key players, including United Airlines Station Manager Salome Andrike, Acting Foreign Secretary Junior Aini, Pacific International Inc. Manager Daniel Kramer, and Ports Authority staff.

The meeting, which Hernandez said “went well,” came up with a set of recommendations for immediate action aimed to maintain mail, cargo and medical diagnostic services. Andrike indicated she would run the recommendations by her corporate headquarters in Chicago for review, said Hernandez.

He said the aim is “to get everything done day and night so the Friday APA flight won’t be disrupted.”

Hernandez said his first priority is to ensure no disruption in mail and cargo services. “We don’t want those affected,” he said. “Then we’ll work on the passenger flights.”

Hernandez said he didn’t blame United for its action. “The safety of people is of the utmost importance,” he said.

Meanwhile, unofficial word received from local authorities Wednesday is that United flight service to and from Majuro is expected to be halted for at least one month. UA is awaiting action from the Marshall Islands government to fix the main terminal building, which a February 2020 engineering report described as a “high risk to the general public and those utilizing the facility.”

In November 2021, United moved out of its office in the main terminal building, citing the unsafe conditions.

Government Chief Secretary Kino Kabua said Wednesday she was advised by Andrike Tuesday night that the flight suspension would take effect immediately with the scheduled Wednesday-Thursday Island Hopper. “No UA and APA flights until they have a proper and safe working space,” Kabua said of United’s action.

Kabua said the aim now is for “some immediate temporary solutions to get UA office up and running at the airport so we can resume flights into Majuro.”

Although the evaluation of AKIA terminal was issued in February 2020 and provided to Ports Authority, it did not result in action to address the dangerous situation of termite and other damage in the terminal. It is only in the past two weeks that President David Kabua became aware of the report, which he shared with Nitijela (parliament) last week Monday.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve reached this stage,” the Chief Secretary said. “For now we will come up with some immediate temporary solutions — without fail, said Kabua…. PACNEWS

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