Ports in overdrive for airport fix

Angeline Heine-Reimers snapped this photo from her seat on last Tuesday’s United Island Hopper flight as it moved away from the Majuro airport terminal with its Marshallese repatriation group to the friendly goodbye of the United staff on the ground. Little did people realize, but the wave from the staff held a deeper meaning that was, at that moment, un- known to most: This was to be the last UA Island Hopper flight until further notice, as United suspended passenger service after this flight due to the hazards of using the airport terminal.

GIFF JOHNSON

Major changes are ongoing at Amata Kabua International Airport in the wake of United Airlines’ suspension of air service to the capital beginning last week Wednesday. But even with the emergency action that is moving with unprecedented speed, it appears that it could be March at the earliest that passenger service can be restored — and it could be later, depending on the challenges of construction work and United Airlines approval of the completed terminal renovation work.

United halted service based on unsafe conditions of the main terminal, the roof and support beams of which are termite and age damaged. To respond quickly to the need to renovate the airport facility to restore United passenger and cargo service, numerous actions by the RMI Ports Authority and RMI government authorities have been taken.

Among the key developments:
• The main terminal has been condemned and virtually everyone has moved out, including United Airlines cargo office. The airport post office has closed and AMI moved all of its check in and cargo to its cargo office on the outside of the main facility.

• The VIP Lounge was converted late last week into the new office for United at the airport. The VIP Lounge will ultimately be included in a major renovation program that is being launched this week.

• A contract was being circulated for signature by government authorities this week to fund “retro-fitting” of the airport terminal roof “to make the terminal safe for occupation for at least five years,” said Ports Acting CEO Larry Hernandez. Assuming government authorities sign the emergency contract, the major renovation project was expected to get started Thursday or Friday this week with Pacific International Inc. contracted for the work.

• United’s cargo office is closed as it is part of the condemned terminal. A temporary facility was being set up this week in the VIP Lounge parking lot to house the UA cargo office. PII Manager Daniel Kramer said his team set up a semi-permanent tent inside the security fence on the airport tarmac for UA and Postal workers to handle incoming cargo and mail. This structure met with UA approval, and a similar facility is being set up in the VIP parking lot in order that UA outbound cargo can resume service, he said.

• As of Monday, the airport Post Office closed until further notice “for the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers,” said Postmaster Dexter Jikit. “Airport box owners will still be able to collect and receive their mail, but only here at the Uliga office.”

• Hernandez confirmed that inbound USPS mail and DHL services are continuing. Jikit confirmed that mail is going out currently on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday schedule. But from February 10, United is suspending its Wednesday-Thursday Island Hopper flight, so that out-bound mail options will be limited to Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays for an unknown period of time.

• Bank of Marshall Islands airport branch remains open, pending advice from Ports Authority concerning any safety issues. The AKIA Cafe and Hangar Bar are still open but can only be accessed from the parking lot entrance/exit, as the terminal itself is now off-limits. Whether the restaurant can remain open now that there are no United passengers, which have been its core customer base, is expected to be determined in discussions now happening between the restaurant’s operators and Ports Authority.

Ports Authority, in an update on its website Tuesday, said that the Ports board of directors had authorized about $265,000 “for the immediate commencement of the Retrofitting Works at the Terminal Building.” Ports estimated this will take up to four weeks to complete. Once the renovation work is complete, United will need to approve the new facility in order to for regular passenger and cargo service for Majuro to resume.

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