An island-hopping Pacific flight path, a debate on independence in New Caledonia and a voice for Kiwi expats.
Route: Honolulu to Guam (via Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk)
Airline: United Airlines
Plane: Boeing 737-800
Frequency: Three times a week
The route map of United Airlines flight 154 looks more like a constellation than a flight path: the dot-to-dot lines between the far-flung Western Pacific outposts at which the Boeing 737-800 makes stops almost resembles the Big Dipper.
The westbound “Island Hopper” begins in Honolulu, crosses the International Date Line and stops first at Majuro and then Kwajalein (both are atolls in the Marshall Islands). Once passengers and freight are unloaded and loaded, 154 continues to Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia. The flight terminates 14 hours and nearly 7,000km after it began, at Antonio B Won Pat International Airport on the Island of Guam.
Few passengers actually make the full trip from Hawaii to Guam because United also offers a direct service from Honolulu. But if you live or have business on one of these tropical outliers, United 154 is your least complicated way to get there.
The 737 is the perfect jet for this mission – its ability to land on shorter runways means that it can easily handle the conditions that might otherwise make this route impossible. What’s more, each stop is a chance to refuel.
Still, a route like this is not without risks and United is said to equip each flight with an extra pilot, a technician and spare parts. Given this, and the fact that no other carrier serves these destinations in such a way, the cost of the ticket is relatively high – on average the return full fare ticket from Honolulu to Pohnpei is around €1,400.
Over the years the route has belonged to a few carriers but most recently to Continental Micronesia, which was absorbed by United during its merger with Continental Airlines. For the communities that depend on this vital link it would seem most don’t really care which livery is on the plane that rolls down the tarmac everyday, just as long as the flights keep on coming.
Around 16 per cent of New Zealanders live abroad but only those who have made a trip home within the past three years have the right to vote. A new political party running in this year’s general election called the Expatriate Party of New Zealand is hoping to change this and focus on issues that affect the country’s large overseas contingent. The organisation is based in Australia, where 600,000 Kiwis live, and has delegates in other large expat communities, such as London and New York. Nick Teulon, one of the founders, says: “If it gets up, for the first time in New Zealand’s electorate history the expat vote will have some weight."
The French territory of New Caledonia is one of the only islands in the Pacific not to have gained full self-governance. An accord signed in the 1990s to heal tensions between the indigenous Kanaks and the French population stipulated an independence referendum to be held between 2014 and 2018. Pro-independence campaigners argue that New Caledonia’s economy, which centres on being the world’s fourth-largest producer of nickel, is strong enough to survive France withdrawing €1.6bn of annual support. Worryingly, gun sales have reportedly increased in the lead up to the vote.
Politics: Despite being in office for less than nine months, polls claim Tony Abbott’s government is already the least popular in four decades. Discontent with policies on climate change, immigration and foreign affairs has led to protests that have brought more than 100,000 people on to the streets. Yet the opposition Labor party is hardly in a position to take advantage: Abbott’s coalition triumphed in all but one of the most recent state elections.
Economy: This month sees the announcement of Australia’s federal budget for 2014-15. Treasurer Joe Hockey is expected to unveil more austerity. Balancing the books will be made trickier by a promise to increase the country’s defence budget.
Diplomacy: The government’s battle with national broadcaster, the abc, is set to grow. Foreign minister Julie Bishop believes the Australia Network, abc’s international broadcast, which is partly funded by government, should promote Australia’s goals overseas rather than air stories such as asylum seekers and the Edward Snowden leaks.