7 Jul 2003

Flights could be affected by remote Pacific runway closure

4:05 pm on 7 July 2003

Commercial airlines flying across the Pacific are searching for an alternative emergency landing strip after a US military decision to close the runway on remote Johnston Atoll in Micronesia.

Twin jets flown by Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, Polynesian and Qantas on route to Hawaii, America and Canada will be affected.

The Atoll's runway is being decommissioned meaning it will no longer qualify under "extended range twin engine operations" or ETOPS rules .

ETOPS require that such planes are never further that three hours from an en route alternative airfield.

Air New Zealand said the closure of the runway will impact on Boeing 767 flights between Auckland, Nadi and Apia to Honolulu and from Nadi to LA with the need to carry additional fuel.

Other alternative runways being considered are at Majuro in the Marshall Islands, and Canton in Kiribati but an airline spokesmen says the most likely is Kiritimati Atoll in Kiribati.

Air New Zealand has proposed an upgrade for Kiritimati in conjunction with the Kiribati government, with financial help from the New Zealand government and the Pacific Islands Forum.

The Airline says if Kiritimati is not available then it may occasionally be forced to cancel flights if Apia is closed by weather and Majuro is not available.