October 27, 2005

By Jessica Chapman
The Kaselehlie Press

Local and Federal Aviation Administration officials traveled to Yap recently to assess damage to the island's airport taxiway and airplane parking area. Shifts in the ground under portions of the asphalt and concrete leading from the runway to the terminal have resulted in a host of problems, including discontinuance of Mobil fuel service to aircraft.

"It started to bulge, like lava," said Master Halbert, safety inspector for the FSM Transportation, Communication and Infrastructure department, to describe the visible effect of the underground instability. As a result, aircraft must be towed to the terminal in order to avoid the problem areas, which comprise about two-thirds of the available parking area, or apron.

"We believe there are water settlements under the apron," Halbert said, though only a soil test will determine for certain. According to Halbert, the compromise to the integrity of the soil under the apron led Mobil to worry about its fuel pipelines running through the area. Mobil pulled its services in July.

"That's an issue for us," said Art Day, Continental Micronesia's regional manager. Though the problems have not affected Continental Micronesia's service to the island, the lack of a reliable fuel supply to the airport means aircraft must bring their own. According to Day, the added fuel weight decreases the load a plane may carry. The Yap airport is no stranger to this type of damage. An April 1994 U.S. Army Corps of Engineer study indicated similar pavement failures at the airport. The study concluded water in the ground under the surface, or "base course," was the culprit.

And repair is not cheap. The U.S. Army Corps estimated $9 million to repair the airport in that instance. Though Halbert doesn't know what current repair costs will run, he knows it will be in the millions. It may not be any time soon before repairs get underway either. Though a firm, Leo A. Daly, has already been selected to execute the design for new portions, reliance on FAA grants can mean a wait.

The Yap airport, for example, still awaits repair to its terminal, which was damaged by Typhoon Sudal in 2004. The FSM relies on FAA advice and support for all four of its airports. In the meantime, Halbert plans to pursue government funding for the project. Halbert visited Yap with FAA officials Brayer Barry, Micronesia programs manager and Ronnie Simpson, district office manager. The Yap airport was constructed in 1983.