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Aloha lines up ETOPS 737s for South Pacific expansion

Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES

Aloha Airlines, the Hawaii-based inter-island carrier, plans to start weekly scheduled services to the Marshall Islands as part of an overall strategic diversification into niche markets in the south and western Pacific.

The 3,700km (2,000nm) flight will leave Honolulu International every Thursday afternoon from 2 September and arrive in Majuro the following afternoon, having crossed the international dateline.

The route will be flown by the airline's modified Boeing 737-200 ETOPS (extended range twin engined operations) aircraft. It will include a refuelling stop at the US Air Force base on Johnston Atoll.

Aloha, which has been negotiating the route with the Marshallese Government for two years, says the island's administration is "very enthusiastic about the additional service". The island's only regular scheduled service to Hawaii is provided by Continental Micronesia, which operates a Boeing 727-200 on the twice weekly island hopping service from Guam via Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein, Majuro and Johnston to Oahu.

From early August, Continental plans to fly the 727 direct from Majuro to Hawaii to take advantage of seasonal westerly winds, but will still be forced to stop at Johnston on the return to Guam.

Aloha's new flight will carry on to Kwajalein, where the service terminates. The south-west Pacific expansion builds on earlier ETOPS route work which Aloha began in February 1986 when it became the first US airline to gain Federal Aviation Administration approval for 737 ETOPS on a Honolulu-Christmas Island (Kiribati) charter operation.

Weekly charters were also operated from 1991 to Johnston Atoll, and expanded to include weekly charters back to Christmas Island in 1997 and Midway in 1998.

The ETOPS-modified 737s are part of a 19-strong -200 fleet and will be operated with 10 business class and 97 economy seats. Aloha says the timing of the flight "allows us to level out the use of our aircraft and makes sure we get the fleet back together to handle the peak period of travel over the weekend".

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