Is the FSM-subsidized CIA out to kill competing PMA?
Colonia-- On the heels of the recent announcement by Caroline Islands Airline (CIA) that the small carrier is taking over the route between Yap and Palau that was abandoned by United Airlines in early January, came the announcement that CIA will also start flying to Ulithi Atoll and Fais Island. The carrier’s new Harbin Y-12, a 17-seat turboprop utility aircraft, was donated to FSM by the Chinese government in November 2017 and will serve these two destinations in Yap’s outer islands beginning Jan. 15 in addition to the twice-weekly flights between Yap and Palau that began on Jan. 9. CIA is also expected to fly to Woleai Atoll in the future, pending renovations of the airstrip there.
CIA’s scheduled flights will fly Yap-Ulithi-Fais-Yap on Monday every other week. Check-in at Yap International Airport will begin at 5:30am and end at 6:30 a.m. with departure at 7:00 a.m. Rates are Yap-Ulithi $60 adult/$30 child; Yap-Fais $80 adult/$40 child; Ulithi-Fais $40 adult/$20 child. Cargo rate is $0.60/lb. Round trip rates are doubled for the respective rates. Children are classified as 2 to 12 years of age; adults are 13 years of age and above; infants below 2 years of age are free.
CIA’s goal is “to provide you with reliable transportation to most of the islands, some shipping and private charters.” On Jan. 5, the Chinese Ambassador Li Jie, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs Lorin Robert, Secretary of the Department of Justice Joses Gallen, Yap State Governor Tony Ganngiyan, and other senior Yap officials and traditional leaders flew aboard the Y-12 to Ulithi and Fais where local residents gathered to welcome Y-12 and the delegation. The Ambassador extended New Year’s greetings and presented the Chief of Ulithi and the Chief of Fais with gifts of $1,000 and $500 respectively. On Jan. 6, the plane was sent to the outer island of Woleai to transfer a young patient to the main island for medical treatment.
CIA joins Pacific Mission Aviation (PMA) in providing flights to the outer islands of Yap. PMA has served FSM since 1974, offering on-demand service in two 9-seater, multi-engine aircraft to Ulithi every Monday and Friday and to Fais approximately twice a month.
When told of CIA’s new services from Yap to Palau and Yap’s outer islands, U.S. Ambassador Robert Riley said, “We are glad people will be able to continue to travel between Yap and Palau, with new expanded service to the Yap outer islands. PMA also continues its regularly scheduled flights to the outer islands, with its long history in Micronesia and commitment to community service. They provide medevac, charter, and search services, vital to Yap’s well-being and sustainability.”
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PMA has been a necessary link between the outer islands and the island state centers. Like CIA, PMA is available for charter services but they also provide sea searches for the cost of fuel; medical evacuations from Yap to Palau for the cost of fuel; free medical evacuations from the outer islands to Yap; medicine drops at islands with no runways for the cost of fuel; and they act as an intermediary between islanders and the banks on Yap for deposits. If a medic in the islands has a patient that is not critical, but needs to see a doctor as soon as possible, PMA carries the patient for free. If the patient is a small child who needs her mother, the mother and child both fly free.
A non-profit, mission-based organization, PMA serves the islands of Micronesia and the Philippines and is supported through gifts and donations. They have also initiated youth programs, vocational training and built youth centers for healthy recreational activities in the areas they serve.
When asked about the two carriers serving the same sparsely inhabited islands that have fewer than 1,000 residents total, a CIA representative responded that “CIA is here to complement logistics.” This is questioned by some since CIA’s rates seem to create competition between the carriers. Their rates are $20 lower per ticket, $0.10/lb lower for freight, and $200 less for charters than PMA’s rates, which have been maintained for the past eight years.
There is also concern that if PMA, “with the goal of going places that are isolated to help improve the way of life,” is no longer able to serve the islands, CIA’s rates will increase and free medevac services will be eliminated as they were in the mid-1990s when CIA took over service in Pohnpei, virtually pushing PMA out. CIA’s rates increased, free medevac services ceased and sea searches for the cost of fuel were halted. In addition, the FSM government had to subsidize CIA, which it still does today.