More economic opportunities are expected to fly into Pohnpei and the Federated States of Micronesia once the $29-million improvement project at the Pohnpei International Airport is completed early next year according to Melson M. Darra airport manager.

Darra said the airport modernization plan will expand the opportunities for other airlines and more companies to do business in Pohnpei and the FSM.

“With the current length of runway the Continental B-737-800 is the only scheduled passenger aircraft that comes to Pohnpei with payload restriction “” Darra said. “”We do not expect to see much [business] in the beginning but gradual increase in both passenger and cargo services are expected.””

The Pohnpei airport upgrade is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency through an agreement signed in September 2008. Darra said the project cost 2.5 billion yen which converts to more than $29 million.

The grant will be used to extend the 6 000-foot runway another 800 feet and to build a new terminal. The project which commenced in July 2009 has been awarded to Penta-Ocean Construction Co. Ltd.

The runway extension will improve safety at the airport which is challenged by its short length the weight restrictions and other wet weather conditions Darra said. “”Two incidents happened here at the airport that could have been prevented if the runway was longer “” he said.

In May 2008 the Pohnpei airport had to be shut down for six days after a cargo jet overrun the runway. “”For capacity enhancement there will be less payload restrictions and more places and bigger aircrafts to do business with “” Darra said.

Darra said the Pohnpei Port Authority will focus on building infrastructures to make the airport safer and more convenient for passengers and cargo traffic.

He added that the project will open up opportunities to fly direct to other places for the transportation of goods and tourists.

In addition to improvements to the runway the airport’s apron will be extended and the passenger terminal will be renovated to include an arrival terminal as well. The terminal building floor area will measure at 1 288 square meters. The apron will expand to 1 790 square meters and the reclamation for runway extension will be 865.89 feet in length and 500 feet in width.

The Pohnpei Port Authority is working with the FSM Foreign Affairs Office the Pohnpei State Government and the project contractor to ensure that the projects are completed on time. The project is targeted for completion by February 2011.

Darra said the biggest challenge that this expansion faces is the large amount of soft silt that is required to be removed from the project site.

As the Pohnpei airport project nears completion the Pacific Asia Travel Association Micronesia Chapter’s educational committee made a pledge at its triennial membership meeting in Yap on Sept. 8 to 10 to assist Pohnpeian businesses in preparation for the possible increase in visitors and cargo. “”The chapter is exploring the best possible ways to offer assistance with tourism-related customer services skills through available training and workshop opportunities through the Pohnpei Visitors Bureau’s membership “” said Darin De Leon chairman for PATA Micronesia Chapter.

The new facility is seen as a big challenge for Pohnpei yet promises to be a positive impact on the region’s tourism. The committee also plans to send hospitality specialists to Yap and Pohnpei to train its industry stakeholders.

PATA Micronesia also plans to hire a company that will develop a regional branding initiative to hold together the promotion of Micronesia’s distinctive identity.

“”The branding initiative will cover all of the eight islands in Micronesia “” De Leon said. “”The marketing committee has already issued a request for proposal to find a company that will oversee the task in front of us. Until the selection is done the group won’t find out what kind of strategy we will use in pursuing a regional branding initiative.””

“”PATA Micronesia Chapter continues to network and strengthen its marketing and promotional efforts for the region as a choice vacationing destination through its members of national and state tourism offices affiliated government entities/offices and local tourism industry partners such as airlines hoteliers dive/tour operators and restaurants “” De Leon said. MBJ