Airline Startup Of The Week: Marianas Pacific

With the COVID pandemic leading to a surprisingly high number of airline startups, we explore a small startup…

Airline Startup Of The Week: Marianas Pacific

With the COVID pandemic leading to a surprisingly high number of airline startups, we explore a small startup in the Pacific – Marianas Pacific. The airline, yet to launch, will be based in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands and primarily serve tourists looking for a sun-soaked getaway. The carrier, which has already announced flights from South Korea, also hopes to create a link between Australia.

Marianas Pacific hopes to establish Saipan as a leading travel destination. Photo: Getty Images

Introducing Marianas Pacific

Marianas Pacific is a proposed new carrier that will serve the Northern Marianas Islands. The airline has been in the works for the past year, with Saipan’s governor Ralph Torres also onboard with proposals to establish a new airline in the region. The carrier hopes to establish Saipan as a popular tourist destination on a par with Bali.

The chairman of Marianas Pacific is Neil Hansford, an Australian aviation professional with over 40 years in the industry as a consultant and freight specialist. Hansford has been working on establishing Marianas Pacific over the past year, with a particular focus on linking Saipan with the lucrative Australian market.

Boeing 757 and Lockheed L1011 Tristar queue on taxiway with Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia taking-off behind at dusk
Marianas Pacific’s fleet will initially consist of Boeing 757s. Photo: Getty Images

The airline will initially operate direct flights between Saipan and South Korea. It is hoped a travel bubble can be established between Saipan and Australia in the coming weeks, with Brisbane targeted as the most likely destination. According to reports, Marianas Pacific will operate a small fleet of Boeing 757s.

Making Saipan the ‘next Bali’

Chairman of Marianas Pacific, Neil Hansford, has earmarked Saipan as a vacation destination full of promise. With popular getaways like Bali still unreachable due to the pandemic, Hansford believes Saipan offers the perfect alternative.

Hansford told The Australian,

“No Australian health authority is going to allow travel to Bali any time soon, same with the Philippines. Australians are going to want to go somewhere that’s Covid-safe and Saipan ticks all the boxes.”

Saipan offers unspoiled beaches and excellent resorts. Photo: Editor abcdef via Wikimedia Commons

Saipan is slowly moving towards opening up to international travelers. With almost 80% of its adult population now vaccinated, the island is gearing up to welcome new travelers, particularly Australians. According to the Saipan Tribune, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) as a whole has reached the 70% mark for vaccination.

Hansford added,

“It’s the same distance (from Brisbane) as Bali, it has the same quality of hotels, the same sort of resorts, better diving, English is the main language and they’re in the same time zone as us.”

Bali was all set to open up to international tourism in July this year before the Delta variant took hold of the island. Bali reported 1365 new cases last Friday and has vaccinated (at least one jab) around 70% of its population. On the other hand, Saipan has had notable successes in its management of the COVID pandemic, with no new cases reported since May.

Have you ever visited Saipan? Do you think it is on par with Bali? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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How An Air France 777 Strayed Too Close To A Volcano In 2015

The French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis) has released a report into a near-miss between…

How An Air France 777 Strayed Too Close To A Volcano In 2015

The French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis) has released a report into a near-miss between an Air France Boeing 777 and a volcano. The BEA closed and published its investigation today. It concerns an evening flight from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to Douala, Cameroon more than six years ago, in May 2015.

The aircraft had deviated from its course to avoid stormy weather. Photo: Getty Images

The flight in question

The incident took place on May 2nd, 2015. The flight in question was a 40-minute hop that originated at Equatorial Guinea’s Malabo Saint Isabel International Airport (SSG) on the island of Bioko. Its destination was MD-Douala International Airport (DLA) in neighboring Cameroon. Air France serves these destinations from its Paris CDG hub.

On the evening of the incident, the flight was very lightly loaded. Indeed, according to FlightGlobal, there were just 23 passengers and 14 crew members onboard at the time. suggests that Air France now serves Malabo and Douala separately and directly from Paris, rather than connecting the two in a triangular route as in 2015.

Air France 777
The passenger cabin was less than 10% full at the time. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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A weather-induced deviation

On May 2nd, 2015, thunderstorms along the route of the Air France Boeing 77’s 40-minute flight prompted the crew to make a significant deviation to the planned path. As seen below, Malabo-Douala flights typically fly eastwards toward the African mainland before turning back on themselves for the approach into Cameroon’s largest city.

However, the need to avoid the bad weather sent the flight northeast after departing Malabo’s runway 22. The BEA explains that the deviation was made “while cruising at FL90 [9,000 feet].” Confusion then arose in the cockpit between radar echoes and weather echoes on the 777’s displays. This caused the pilots to misinterpret their location.

Malabo Douala Flightpath
The path of a typical flight from Malabo to Douala. Mount Cameroon is northwest of Buea, so the weather-based deviation that the Air France flight took was a significant one. Image:

Near miss with the volcano

Believing that they were safely to the southwest of the 13,250-foot high Mount Cameroon, the crew elected to turn right in preparation for their arrival into Douala. However, they were actually to the northwest of the volcano, and this turn brought them dangerously close to its terrain. BEA explains that this causes the EPGWS ‘Pull Up’ alarm to sound.

The crew noted that they could “distinguish trees” to the aircraft’s starboard side. This gives an impression of the plane’s proximity to the volcano. In response, maximum thrust was applied, and the nose pitched upward, taking the 777 away from the terrain.

The flight eventually climbed away to an altitude of 13,000 feet. The remainder of the flight passed without incident, and the plane landed safely in Douala. BEA classed the incident as serious, under the category of “CFIT: Controlled flight into or toward terrain.”

The plane was close enough to the volcano that the pilots could see its vegetation from the cockpit. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The aircraft involved

The exact plane involved in this near-miss with the terrain of Mount Cameroon was a Boeing 777-200ER registered as F-GSPG. According to data from, this 22.5-year old aircraft has been with Air France for its entire working life. Air France has a total of 21 777-200ERs in its fleet, of which 15 are active, with six in storage.

It first flew in February 1999, and was delivered in the same month. Air France chose to equip F-GSPG with a three-class, 280-seat configuration (216 economy, 24 premium economy, 40 business). RadarBox data shows that it has been in storage since last year. Its last flight took it from Beirut, Lebanon back to Paris on November 13th, 2020.

Simple Flying has reached out to Air France for a statement regarding the incident. We shall add any further information from the airline upon receiving it.

What do you make of this incident? Have you ever flown in volcanic regions? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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