Keep Midway airfield
open permanently


A Boeing 777 commercial airliner carrying 294 people made an emergency landing at Midway Atoll because of mechanical problems.

THE emergency landing of a Continental airliner on Midway Atoll after it had begun to lose oil pressure came at an opportune time. The U.S. Department of the Interior secured funding to keep the Midway airfield open through this month, and the Senate must approve a House-passed bill that includes funding to maintain operations through September. A more permanent solution is needed.

The airfield has been financially strapped since a company that operated an ecotourism resort at the atoll departed two years ago. Under its contract with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the company had operated the airport and other facilities. The airfield was used by planes transporting ecotourists and federal personnel the 1,400 miles back and forth from Honolulu.

Fish and Wildlife has been unable to find another company to resume many of those services. Midway Phoenix Corp. lost more than $15 million in its six-year endeavor, complaining that the federal agency had been too restrictive in protecting wildlife. The agency is in control of the atoll, a national wildlife refuge that has nesting grounds for nearly 1 million Laysan albatrosses, 14 other species of migratory birds and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

The airfield is used for refueling commercial, military and private aircraft. Its continued operation also is important for the Coast Guard, which needs the island as a refueling stop during law enforcement and rescue operations. Without the airfield, some commercial airline routes would have to be changed, because the Federal Aviation Administration requires two-engine jets to stay within 1,000 miles of an emergency landing spot in case they lose an engine.

An airfield at Wake Atoll is temporarily closed while its runway is being resurfaced, and the Johnston Atoll's airfield was permanently closed last month. Rep. Ed Case said Continental's use of the airfield to land its Boeing 777 carrying 294 people on a non-stop flight from Japan to Houston "demonstrates graphically why it is so important to maintain a mid-Pacific emergency landing strip on Midway."

The bill before Congress directs various federal agencies to contribute to an FAA fund that would make up to $6 million available to Fish and Wildlife for continued operation of the Midway airfield through September. American Airports Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif., has been operating the airfield under contract with the Interior Department agency since May 2002.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., has proposed taking control of the atoll away from the Fish and Wildlife Service, but it is the proper entity for protecting Midway as a wildlife refuge. A better solution, suggested by Case, would be for Fish and Wildlife, the Coast Guard, FAA and the military to enter into a "co-sharing agreement."



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke, Colbert
Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,
Frank Teskey, Publisher

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Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor, 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;

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