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  • By Joyce McClure

Two aircraft donated to Pacific Mission Aviation

Colonia, Yap-- Pacific Mission Aviation has announced the donation of two Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft to their small fleet of airplanes that serve the outer islands of Yap.

PMA is a non-profit non-denominational evangelical Christian organization. Revenue is generated from the services that they provide, but FSM citizens are eligible for discounts, and medivac services are free of charge to the patient and one family member.

These additions to their 46-year association with the Federated States of Micronesia have been enthusiastically welcomed by Yap. Gov. Henry Falan. “For nearly five decades, our state has relied on PMA for humanitarian aid including medical evacuations, sea searches, disaster relief, as well as regular transportation to and from our remote islands,” he said. “It is with great excitement and extreme gratitude that we look forward to having this increased capability for the continuation of PMA’s vital link for the residents of the far-flung islands that make up our state.”

While the Federated States of Micronesia implemented a travel ban in March 2020 that prevents passengers and crews from entering the country by air or sea, transportation between the four Covid-free island states has remained open. But there have been challenges for Yap since residents and visitors rely on Guam to be the pivot point for travel between Yap and Pohnpei.

The only other option, the aging Haplimohol 1 ship that provided passenger and cargo transportation between the remote islands has broken down several times in recent months, putting further strain on the delivery of food, medical supplies, cargo, patients in need of medical care, students and teachers returning to school on the main island.

“We immediately saw the need for better, faster equipment,” said Amos Collins, director of PMA’s Flight Operations, “and to expand PMA’s reach to adjoining states and countries in the region.”

Grants were researched to support the purchase of the Beechcraft King Air 200 plus training for pilots and mechanics, and spare parts. On November 8, the organization contacted Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, based in North Carolina, which “provides aid to people in physical need as a key part of its Christian missionary work.”

They had two Beechcraft King Air 200’s for sale that were outfitted for mission work, with extra cargo carrying capabilities, strong landing gear, and other enhancements.

Within four days, PMA received correspondence from Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, requesting more information about PMA and the need for the aircraft. A phone call between Graham and PMA’s CEO, Nob Kalau, sealed the deal for the donation of the two planes that included the promise that they would be ready for service upon arrival. The cost would be only $1 per plane for the title transfer.

Samaritan’s Purse would also commit to paying for three PMA pilots and three mechanics to be trained in the new turboprop aircraft, Graham said.

“These planes can go to Palau in one hour,” noted Collins. “And our long term goal is to have an option for medevac to Manila for this entire region. This aircraft can fly to Manila in only four hours from Yap, and,” he added, “it has the capability to fly non-stop to Pohnpei in five hours, also for medevac needs with limited passengers. Currently, our flights between Yap and Pohnpei take much longer because our aircraft use AVGAS, an aviation fuel used in aircraft with internal combustion engines that is not readily available at other airports.”

“Samaritan’s Purse is overhauling one engine for us and two propellers, as well as changing a bunch of avionic systems to make the planes as similar as possible,” said Collins. “Their goal is to have the planes ready by March, but it will depend on the borders opening as to when we can get them in.”

PMA has already recruited two new pilots and one mechanic to be in Yap when the planes arrive, but will continue to recruit more in the coming year. As a non-profit organization, PMA does not pay its pilots a salary but rather requires them to raise their own support through private donors.

The two planes will join PMA’s three other aircraft, two Beechcraft Queen Airs and a Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander. “We are putting the finishing touches on a new hangar in Palau,” said Collins. “By the time these planes arrive, the hangar will be ready to house some of our fleet along with our hangar in Yap. The two King Airs will initially be based in Yap as there is a high demand for these planes on the routes that PMA is currently flying.”

The organization has a preliminary memorandum of understanding with Palau to provide an aerial surveillance platform for them. “The Queen Air has proven to be ideal for that work, so having one stationed there will be optimal for Palau,” Collins said. “They just got a new patrol boat, so we hope to be working with them in the coming years.”

All of the planes in the fleet carry only nine passengers, but the King Airs can carry 1,000 pounds more cargo than the Queen Airs. “And that is what I wanted,” said Collins, “because our flights typically have more cargo than passengers.”

“Some might argue that with only nine seats, this aircraft is too small for the route between Palau an

d Yap, but we can always add a second or third flight as demand requires,” Collins noted. “Later down the road, if demand increases and we see consistent loads of, say, 32 passengers, we can look for something bigger to meet that demand. These King Airs are the logical next step up. I think people will be very impressed with their capabilities.”

Governor Falan has written to FSM President David Panuelo requesting permission for PMA to take over the Yap-Palau route that United Airlines served until January 2018. At that time, the FSM government-owned Caroline Islands Air took over the route but service was stopped when the borders of both islands were closed in late March due to the pandemic. Recently, Governor Falan fully supported President Panuelo’s decision to send the CIA plane that was based in Yap back to Pohnpei.

“PMA is Yap’s trusted and invaluable partner,” Falan said. “They have been with us through good times and bad, providing service to those in need. We are indebted to Samaritan’s Purse for their generous donation. When these two new planes arrive, we will have a true Yapese welcoming celebration!”

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