Flights that deliver food, medicine and mail to Micronesia, American Samoa, Palau and other islands have been canceled.

Asia Pacific Airlines, a cargo provider that Pacific islands rely on to deliver essential goods, has been grounded since Wednesday when the Federal Aviation Administration ordered it to cease operations.

The FAA suspended the operating authority of the company, also known as Aero Micronesia Inc., after the carrier was “unable to demonstrate that its pilots were properly trained,” the agency said in a statement.

Under the terms of the emergency suspension, Asia Pacific must immediately surrender its air carrier certificate to the feds and cease operations until it provides complete records. Failure to surrender the certificate could lead to the company being fined $16,108 a day, according to the FAA.

Delta Oil Tanker offshore the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Asia Pacific provides cargo services to many Pacific islands, including Guam, Saipan and the Federated States of Micronesia. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Adam Ferguson, Asia Pacific’s president, said in an interview that FAA’s gripe centers on pilot instructors who have flown planes for decades and are qualified to do their jobs.

“There is no safety issue here,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Asia Pacific is appealing the suspension with the National Transportation Safety Board, Ferguson said.

FAA said it issued an emergency order of suspension on Wednesday “after the company failed to produce records showing that the two individuals who provide proficiency checks for company pilots were properly trained and qualified for the past two years.”

“Under the regulations, any flight check provided by these two individuals is invalid, meaning that none of the company’s pilots are currently qualified to fly,” it added.

The FAA said it notified the company in December about its apparent noncompliance and “urged the carrier to suspend operations until the matter was resolved,” but the Guam-based company continued to operate.

Ferguson said the problem is a paperwork issue. The inspectors work for a Scottsdale, Arizona-based company called K&S Aviation Services.

When the FAA asked for documentation proving their qualifications, K&S provided it last year, but that didn’t satisfy the FAA, which wanted Asia Pacific to provide the documentation itself. But it couldn’t, since Asia Pacific wasn’t the keeper of those records, Ferguson said.

So Ferguson said he sent his pilots to get newly trained to obtain fresh documentation. That paperwork was obtained Jan. 8 and submitted to the FAA once the agency asked for it on Tuesday, he said.

But the next day, the FAA proceeded with the suspension order anyway, saying that they needed time to review the records and would be grounding flights in the meantime, Ferguson said. Regulators haven’t offered an estimate of how long they’ll need to examine the documents, he said.

Asia Pacific’s suspension will have a major impact on its destinations because it’s the only air cargo provider for some islands including the Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa, Palau and the Marshall Islands, according to Ferguson.

The airline completes a minimum of 60 flights per month and the planes deliver food, medicine and mail, among other items, Ferguson said. Passenger flights will have to fill in the gaps, he said.

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