JAL plans weekly charter flights to Majuro has seen two recent visits by Japan Airlines officials and expects to receive JAL charter flights by March or April.

The proposed flight schedule will leave Narita on Tuesdays arriving in Majuro at about 6 p.m. JAL will also fly Tokyo to Honolulu on Saturday — that aircraft once unloaded will fly to Majuro and take the Tuesday passengers back to Japan. After unloading passengers the Tuesday Majuro flight will continue to Honolulu collecting from Hawaii passengers that flew to Honolulu on Saturday. The planned aircraft for the route is a Boeing 767.

Officials in the Marshall Islands are understandably interested in filling the empty flight to Honolulu with passengers and freight.

Koji Mochizuki JAL’s charter manager made the first visit in June and told local officials the flights were very possible. The second visit to the Marshall Islands by JAL officials in August was comprised of a six-man inspection team which surveyed airport facilities — including the runway arrival and departure areas and customs processing.

JAL communicated a list of requirements to the Majuro Chamber of Commerce which were discussed at a general membership meeting on Sept. 15. The requirements presented as a report would need to be met before the airline brought in a wide-bodied jet and include an x-ray machine for baggage a container dolly a towing tug a passenger step and a high lift leader for the 767.

Francis C. Domnick chief administrative officer at the College of the Marshall Islands and president of the Majuro chamber of Commerce told the Journal “We really welcome the route that JAL is proposing. We believe it would be a boost for our tourism industry. It’s a small industry but we have a lot to gain from this wonderful opportunity. We are doing all that we can to prepare for the arrival of Japan Airlines.”

William H. “Bill” Wezer general manager of the Marshall Islands Resort and member of the executive committee of the chamber told the Journal a Sri Lankan developer working with Japanese industrialists spent 10 days in the Marshall Islands due to 9-11 travel disruption. “One of his roles is the development of future destinations.” The developer had worked extensively in the Maldives Wezer said and had experience in resort development and Japanese requirements. “The Japanese are looking for safe destinations.”

From that came overtures in Japan to JAL Wezer said and the inspection visits.

Gerald Zakous minister of foreign affairs and trade had been involved in the effort Wezer said. “He’s very proactive. They contacted his office because this involved foreign affairs and tourism.”

The chamber was working to fulfill JAL’s requirements Wezer said. “They had some ground equipment that ‘s needed right now. We’re researching the availability of that and whether the government purchases it or whether it’s a private sector initiative.” The Japanese industrialists could be involved in financing the equipment he said. Necessary runway work was expected to begin in November or December performed by a Hong Kong-based company with runway repair expertise. “The impact zone on the landing area began to deteriorate. It’s typical runway repair.” Wezer said the work could be performed overnight without disruption of flights during about two to two-and-a-half months.

JAL’s plans will offer competition for both passengers and freight on the Majuro to Honolulu route.

Continental Micronesia announced Oct. 7 it would begin a weekly service from Dec. 6 between Guam Kwajalein and Hawaii. On March 18 2006 Continental will add a weekly flight on the Guam Majuro-Honolulu route. Those flights are in addition to the Island Hopper service between Guam and the Marshall Islands.

Walter B. Dias staff vice president for sales and promotions at Continental said “There’s strong traffic between Majuro and Honolulu. Some is traffic from Hawaii and some is from the U.S. mainland.” The additional flights Dias said arrive in Honolulu at different times from the island hopper flights and “Allow for very good connections from Hawaii to the west coast and the rest of the U.S. network instead of having to overnight in Hawaii and it’s the same thing the other way. The connection is Guam-Majuro-Hawaii and Hawaii-Majuro-Guam. We designed it so it has connections to and from the U.S.” The additional flights would allow for smooth connection on the Manila- Guam-Majuro route he said. “There is also some business connections between the Philippines and the Marshall Islands — suppliers and businesses that have people traveling back and forth.”

The Marshall Islands has seen some growth to its tourism industry and some products in anticipation of further flights.

Dias said “We do have a tourism market from the U.S. market coming in to dive with the opening of Bikini Atoll. A lot of it has to do with the diving. There are other little islands — you can fly out of Majuro or take a boat.” Dias said Continental wanted to expand traffic on the Guam to Majuro route as well as provide additional service outbound to Hawaii. “It’s an experiment we want to try. We want to grow tourism into Majuro. The island hopper flight from Guam to Chuuk is always full to a certain extent. Flying just Guam to Majuro will allow some of the seats to open up.”

Joseph “Jerry” Kramer chief executive officer of Pacific International Inc. said visitors were now more interested in the Marshall Islands. “We’ve got the traffic and tourism is building. Kwajalein has a phenomenal number of wrecks. We’re also a bit of a gateway to Australia.” Pacific International owns a live-aboard dive boat. “We’re considering a second vessel ” Kramer said.

Domnick said “We have investors that are creating small tourist locations; this will help their businesses.” He said apart from diving and snorkeling businesses “We have a couple of companies that have built resort areas on the small islands of Majuro just recently.” He said the accommodation was in cottages “taking advantage of eco-tourism and using solar power generation as well as coconut oil fuel.”

JAL was interested in the Marshall Islands for a couple of reasons Domnick said. “I think they are looking for other alternatives to places like Guam and Saipan. We have Japanese businesses here that have been proactive in trying to bring them here.” MBJ