New Pacific air route lands in Palau

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Palau President Sirangle Whipps Jr and Kiribati President Taneti Maamau at the Pacific Islands Forum 2023 Leaders Retreat in Fiji. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Lydia Lewis

There is excitement in the air in Palau as the first flight of a weekly service from Australia kicks off.

Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr said there will be flights that connect Brisbane to Palau through PNG, starting February 28.

The service is new and to be underwritten by the Australian government’s flight program, Whipps Jr said.

He said Air Niugini is going to fly the route, which was not in operation pre-pandemic.

“The weekly flights will be operated by the airline’s Boeing 767 aircraft every Tuesday from Brisbane to Palau via Port Moresby with the return flight on Wednesday,” Air Niugini Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Alabaster said.

Flights to Kiribati, Pompei, Marshall Islands and Nauru are also part of the initiative, in an effort to ramp up air travel and better connect the Pacific, Whipps Jr said.

The Nauru service resumed after a two and a half years on hold due to covid border closures.

“The programme has supported over 450 flights in the Pacific since December 2020 and throughout the covid-19 pandemic across 14 routes and 11 countries.

“This has helped keep Pacific communities connected, maintain supply chains and deliver critical medicines,” an Air Niugini spokesperson said.

Palau relies on the tourism market and direct access for the Australian market will provide a major boost to the local economy, Alabaster said.

He said the real pull factors for tourists are diving and outdoor activities which are unique to Palau.

President Whipps encourages New Zealand and Australian tourists to take up the opportunity.

“Come and explore; we have amazing diving,” Whipps Jr said.

He said he has invited former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford to visit.

“Hopefully he will come up for a fishing show here,” he said.

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