The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) will fund a feasibility study into establishing a scheduled passenger airline to service Timor-Leste’s isolated Oé-Cusse Ambeno exclave. The agency says it wants to improve air links within the country and boost its international air connectivity.

The Oé-Cusse Ambeno region is an 816 square-kilometre coastal exclave in the western part of the island of Timor and separated from the remainder of Timor-Leste by Indonesian territory. Oé-Cusse Ambeno's sole commercial airport, the grandly named Oe-Cussi International Airport, is serviced by one flight a day to Timor-Leste's capital, Dili. That flight is provided by the Canadian government in conjunction with Kenn Borek Air (KBA, Calgary) (MAF) using Twin Otter aircraft.

The USTDA has retained New York-based Alton Aviation Consultancy to undertake the feasibility study into the prospective airline, which it says is designed to link non-contiguous regions of Timor-Leste. It says the number of daily passengers using the existing MAF service is less than 20. The USTDA says a new airline could increase passenger and cargo traffic for Oé-Cusse Ambeno and Timor-Leste. Alton declined a request by ch-aviation for comment.

"The study will develop a detailed business case for the new airline, and review Timor-Leste’s current and potential commercial aviation market," a USTDA statement reads. "It will also evaluate options for business ownership of the airline, operational models, network strategy and a fleet strategy. The business case will include a financial model output based on two prioritized business ownership structures."

The USTDA has an established presence in Timor Leste, a still developing country that only gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a protracted campaign. The country remains one of the least connected in Southeast Asia, with Aero Dili and MAF its only operational scheduled carriers. Aero Dili has recently acquired an A320-200, Timor-Leste's only jet aircraft, and it is presently undertaking proving flights, while MAF operates some scheduled domestic operations to airports other than Oé-Cusse using GippsAero GA8 Airvans.

The feasibility study is part of USTDA’s activities under the US-Southeast Asia and Pacific Aviation Cooperation Program. The program works with aviation stakeholders in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands to design programs that promote technical, policy and commercial cooperation in civil aviation. Thomas E. Daley, Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Timor-Leste, said the feasibility study underscored his country's commitment to Timor-Leste. "We look forward to the successful completion of this project and to more flight connections from Oé-Cusse in the very near future.”