Asia Pacific Airlines (Guam) (P9, Guam International) has attacked a US Department of Transportation (DOT) application by Nauru Airlines (Nauru) for an exemption and foreign air carrier permit to operate scheduled and charter flights of persons, property and mail, to US territories in the Central and Western Pacific region. In objecting to the application, Asia Pacific Airlines accuses Nauru Airlines of violating United States Postal Service (USPS) and DOT statutes as well as lacking the "credibility and capacity" to provide the proposed service.

As previously reported by ch-aviation, Nauru Airlines filed its application earlier this month, seeking approval to carry persons, property and mail between Nauru and the United States' outpost of Guam. The airline flagged twice weekly roundtrip cargo flights between Nauru and Guam and one weekly passenger roundtrip. The application came after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded Asia Pacific Airlines over a pilot training issue, leaving several Central and Western Pacific nations and territories without essential freight flights.

"Nauru has operated several charters to move the mail/cargo backlog in recent weeks," their filing said, referring to the Asia Pacific grounding. "This required approval of each flight. Granting this permit would obviate the need for such approvals in the future and replace it with the blanket approval that the requested permit would provide."

The FAA has since rescinded the Asia Pacific grounding and that airline is now voraciously defending its turf, saying it is capable of meeting the cargo transportation needs of the Pacific islands identified in the Nauru Airlines application and asking the DOT not to grant Nauru Airlines the "extraordinary and unprecedented authority it seeks."

Asia Pacific Airlines says the application is a blanket attempt to secure fifth freedom authority in markets US carriers can or do service. It alleges those flights Nauru Airlines says it operated while it was grounded relied on a Part 375 special authorization it received in July 2022, noting that authority does not allow the carriage of USPS mail, even in emergencies. "Part 375 special authorizations only provide for 'occasional planeload charters’ by a foreign aircraft operator, where those operations do not constitute an engagement in foreign air transportation. It bears emphasis that Nauru Airlines made no attempt to seek emergency exemption authority for such flights," the Asia Pacific filing reads.

United Airlines (UA, Chicago O'Hare) has the United States Postal Service contract in the region and subcontracts this to Asia Pacific Airlines. That airline says if Nauru Airlines did carry cargo and mail on behalf of United Airlines while they were grounded, they "apparently" did so without DOT authority to engage in code sharing, as well as violating USPS statutes. "It (also) appears from Nauru Airlines’ application that it violated the statutory prohibition against engaging in common carriage in foreign air transportation without a permit or exemption by operating charters for United (whether for mail or cargo)."

Nauru Airlines CEO Brett Gebers disputes the Asia Pacific Airlines allegations. “In essence we did nothing wrong," he told ch-aviation. "Nauru Airlines responded to United airlines call for help. It was a humanitarian mission to assist the Island states.”

Asia Pacific Airlines also says the Nauru Airlines' application raises credibility and capacity concerns. It alleges its application is complete, saying it provides no reciprocity statement from the Nauru government despite a Part 211 requirement to do so. In 2017, Nauru Airlines applied for, and received, a foreign air carrier permit. However, the airline never exercised those rights. Asia Pacific Airlines says in its filing that the DOT might consider re-issuing the permit with the 2017 conditions attached, saying granting a broader authority would be contrary to the public interest.

"Any award of authority should specify that Nauru Airlines cannot carry US mail or US government-funded cargo, except in a limited situation when no U.S. airline is available to operate to a specific destination. No such limited circumstance exists now," it says.

Unless there is no alternative, Asia Pacific Airlines says under the Fly America Act, all US federally-funded cargo, including mail and military cargo, must use a US carrier. "Asia Pacific has provided this service for over 20 years as a US-certificated carrier. Asia Pacific is currently fully capable of transporting US government-funded cargo, as well as other cargo and US mail throughout the region." It says the US – Nauru relationship is based on comity and reciprocity, which is not an open skies agreement.

Asia Pacific is strenuously opposing the US DOT granting Nauru Airlines any authority beyond the 2017 terms, noting those terms did not allow Nauru Airlines to transport US federally funded cargo, mail, or military personnel. "Asia Pacific has returned to service, and there is no emergency to justify a drastic break with statutory requirements and longstanding Department policy," their filing adds.