Journal Staff

Due to the necessity of re-qualifying its pilots, Aero Micronesia Inc., which does business as Asia Pacific Airlines; is unable to fly its usual routes and its planes are grounded. The situation developed after a weeks-long complicated saga that involved the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Adam Ferguson

Adam Ferguson, president of APA; told the Journal on March 11 the airline may not be back in the air immediately. “We hopefully will be back in the air very soon,” he said, but also recognized that the timing is not only in APA’s hands.

Speaking from Hawaii, he said, “We have to requalify the pilots. That probably means it’s going to be mid-April. That would be the best guess that I can have,” he said. The FAA’s speed would be a factor, Ferguson said.

The issue began back in December, prior to Christmas, when the FAA requested certification from APA that its instructors were trained, meaning that without that certification its pilots were not trained.

The issue is one of documentation. Ferguson said the FAA issued a suspension order solely on the issue of documentation.

APA initially continued to fly to get cargo and mail to the islands by Christmas, also hoping the paperwork issue would soon be resolved with the FAA, but the FAA stood firm on the issue of documentation.

Meanwhile in January, the instructors and the pilot went back to requalification training – according to the FAA request, but the FAA deemed the new training would not suffice, Ferguson said.

The airline appealed to the NTSB on Feb.1, but the NTSB ruled against it on March 7, although it did recognize the instructors were in fact trained.

However, APA still has to work with the FAA to retrain the pilots.

The pilots will be retrained at a new school for recertification in the U.S. mainland. “The simulators are all located in Miami,” Ferguson told the Journal.

As to the pilots, “We’ve lost quite a few as a result of this stop order from the FAA,” Ferguson said.

The situation has had grave consequences for Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands as APA carries cargo to those islands – to include produce, mail, medicine and more.

Ferguson said, “We are chartered by large customers to move basically everything.” The airline is contracted by United Airlines to deliver mail to those islands.

“There’s no other way for them to receive service,” Ferguson said. In the meantime, the only option will be whatever commercial airlines are able to deliver.

APA typically flies twice a week to the islands in Micronesia, as well as weekly to American Samoa. “We operate large jets into all these islands,” Ferguson said. APA flies Boeing 757 cargo freighters, according to its website.

Joseph “Jerry” Kramer, president CEO of Pacific International Inc. commented to the Journal about the lack of cargo on March 9. “The current APA situation with RMI citizens completely helpless to rectify [it] and with no transparency by the FAA is a major issue,” he said.

Giff Johnson, Marshall Islands correspondent for the Journal; told the paper, “We have no lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, eggplant, green/red peppers, etc. We are down to cabbage, potatoes and onions and some squash. We do have apples and oranges, which like cabbage are all imported and have long shelf lives.”

Equally importantly, the lack of APA flights is affecting the economy of the Marshall Islands.

Aside from its inbound cargo, APA also flies a prime product out from the country. “Sashimi-grade tuna is unable to be removed right now,” Ferguson said. He said this is affecting delivery to Costco stores in Hawaii and on the West Coast of the U.S., as well as sushi bars. APA carries about 60 tons of fresh fish weekly out of the Marshall Islands, Ferguson said.

The Journal understands the Marshall Islands may declare a State of Emergency.

APA was founded in 1998. It is a Part 121 U.S. all-cargo airline. Large U.S.-based airlines, regional airlines and cargo carriers operate under Part 121 and are certified as such by the FAA.

APA has a “pristine safety record,” Ferguson said.

During the pandemic, APA carried vaccines and more to the islands for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he told the Journal. Ferguson said the airline abided by all COVID regulations, and as a result was able to continue flying all medical necessities to the islands without any interruption due to anybody contracting COVID.

“We desperately want to get back to serving the people of the Pacific and Micronesia,” Ferguson said. mbj