Midway Atoll ops cut to the bone

 - April 25, 2008, 7:38 AM

At the 60th anniversary of the pivotal naval battle that saved it from Japanese occupation, Midway Island is again fighting for its life–at least its economic life as a viable destination airport (MDY). According to Midway Phoenix, the company that operated the airport under contract from 1996 until last May 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now keeping the field open only for its own support. All commercial charter flights that used to serve a small resort hotel have ceased to operate.

Midway Phoenix maintained the airport as a Part 139 facility, with all the maintenance and firefighting capability associated with that section of the FARs. Now, said a representative from Midway Phoenix, two other companies are fielding skeleton crews at MDY to keep it open for Gulfstream I flights to support the Fish and Wildlife Service and for the Coast Guard as an emergency facility. According to the representative, the Fish and Wildlife Service has shipped $500,000 worth of jet fuel to Midway. MDY is located some 1,200 nm northwest of Hawaii, and is of interest to aircraft operators in the north Pacific for its availability as an extended twin-engine operations (Etops) emergency runway.

A representative from the Oregon office of the Fish and Wildlife Service told AIN that the island’s nondirectional beacon (NDB) and automated weather observation system are operating. “All the elements for Part 139 operation are in place. As far as we know, that’s what’s needed,” he said.

The current stopgap measures were adopted when a row caused Midway Phoenix to cease operations on the tiny Pacific atoll. The company maintained it had lost more than $15 million since 1996 and couldn’t continue to operate on the island under the terms of its contract. Midway Phoenix estimates it would require a minimum of 100 workers to keep the historic field up to Part 139 standards and cost between $5- and $6 million per year to keep the airport up to the required standard.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said it will issue a request for proposals for another company to operate the airport under contract. According to Midway Phoenix president Bob Tracey, contractors who operate a similar facility on Wake Island are paid some $5 million per year in labor alone. He said Midway Phoenix would be interested in returning to MDY under better terms with the Fish and Wildlife Service.