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Once upon a time there was Air Nauru.

Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific Airline and RPT Rumours & News in Australia, enZed and the Pacific

Once upon a time there was Air Nauru.

Old 17th Sep 2014, 15:42
  #101 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Australia
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Centaurus, where are you when we need you for another remenisce?
Right here. Another true story of Air Nauru times.


Normally I am not superstitious. Well, maybe just a little. OK, I avoid walking under ladders, I am tempted to throw salt over my left shoulder and I certainly touch wood. Yes, I believe rats will leave a sinking ship – but wouldn’t you?

In the Pacific islands superstition is rife. A former airline pilot I know has lived on a tiny Pacific island for 29 years. He is unemployed, does not have citizenship but the government let him stay there with free housing. He keeps fit by running around the island and the locals accept him as one of their own. Let’s call him Bill, although that is not his real name.

Bill joined the local airline around 1977 and elected to be based there on the island rather than in Australia. It was tax free, accommodation provided and his contract included free medical and hospital services. The money was good and because there was little to spend it on, his bank account grew nicely. In 1988 the airline’s 30 Australian based pilots went on strike over pay and conditions of service and perceived safety issues. At that time, only four pilots lived on the island. Their salary was tax free, the booze plentiful and cheap and it was pleasant life style. The airline flew to exotic destinations such as Hong Kong and Honolulu and the flight attendants who lived on the island were good company.

The government of the island made a lot of money from natural resources and they owned ships and several Boeings. They named these ships and Boeings after island chiefs. One ship was destined for the ship-breakers in Taiwan as it was going to cost a mint to renew the sea-worthy certificate. It had been found un-seaworthy by the local authorities of another island 500 miles away who prevented it from leaving their harbour. The vessel was named after an eminent lady of the rich island who was still alive but very old. The superstitious islanders considered it bad luck to get rid of the ship while the old lady was still around. So it was left at anchor in the lagoon with a skeleton crew aboard to run the generators and pump out sea water. They had no shortage of girl-friends with whom to enjoy the warm nights. This went on for several years when eventually the old lady went to Heaven and the ship was towed to Taiwan and sold for scrap metal.

The islanders who lived on the rich island were grateful when the four pilots who lived on the island refused to join the strike. The government refused to bow to the pilot’s demands and their contracts were terminated, leaving just four pilots and three Boeings. More pilots were recruited this time from India and essential services resumed. Food supplies and other goods were flown from Australia.

Although unpopular with their colleagues in Australia the four remaining pilots who lived on the island were heroes in the eyes of the government and the people. Time passed and these pilots themselves moved on, leaving Bill as the last of the original pilots that manned the airline in 1977.

Perceived by some as eccentric, Bill clashed with the wrong person and was removed from flying in 1992. In a similar position, other expatriate workers on the island would have deported by the government on the first plane out. The turn-over of qualified expatriates had historically been high. Cross the wrong island official and you were out, fast.

Although Bill did not know it, he was regarded by a grateful government as the last of the Mohicians – the band of four pilots who had remained with the airline. It would bring bad luck to sack him. Financially he was secure, living on investments and bank interest made during his airline years. With the island’s natural resources drying up there was no more money coming in and the once rich islanders became poor. The government was broke and so was the bank that had Bill’s money. Despite numerous changes of government, none were game to deport Bill back to Australia. The decision had long been made to let Bill stay as long as he wished. Such is the power of superstition.

In the early 1980’s the airline’s Boeings were landing on islands in Micronesia, the Marshalls, the Carolines and the Solomons. Guam, Saipan, Chuuk (Truk), and Koror in Palau were popular destinations for Japanese tourists in particular. Flight attendants of the airline were recruited from several Pacific islands. Each brought with them individual superstitions common to their own country.

One particular flight attendant from Malaita Island in the Solomons, was feared by her colleagues because Malaita, a mountainous jungle covered island, had an evil reputation for black magic and sorcerers. Playing on their fears, this attractive dark skinned young woman let it be known she possessed certain magic powers and that unless the other flight attendants “volunteered” to do her flights, she would eat their eyeballs while they slept. It worked, because she rarely flew and spent much of her time relaxing on the beach on full pay. Not bad if you can get away with it..

The power of superstitious beliefs, on one island at least, is well illustrated by the two preceding stories. The next story however is about my own clash with superstition and starts on a balmy evening at the bar of the Hilton Hotel in Guam. Our crew had arrived from Hong Kong and were relaxing before resuming duty next day. Some had gone shopping, others were sleeping, and I was reading a book by the pool when I was joined by Henrietta, a air hostess from the Micronesian atoll of Chuuk. In those days it was called Truk and the title of air hostess has been long replaced by the more neutral term Flight Attendant, or FA for short.

Henrietta isn’t her real name, but close enough for the purpose of this story. She was attractive with laid back manner. Where possible the airline rostered the FA’s through their home islands. Some had children there and of course, relatives. In the islands everyone is a cousin. When passing through Truk on previous occasions I had seen two small children waiting for Henrietta behind the airport security fence and as she stepped from the aircraft they would wave and call out to her. The Immigration staff knew her well and allowed the children into the terminal building to greet her.

On the following day we were scheduled to return to our home island via Truk and Ponape and I asked Henrietta about the two children at Truk airport. They belonged to her, she said, and always met the inbound Boeing in the hope their mother would on it. During the Pacific war, Truk was a Japanese military base and the target of constant air attacks by American bombers. After the war Truk Lagoon became a popular destination for dive parties eager to explore the many sunken Japanese ships.

With two children, I assumed therefore that Henrietta was married although she certainly had no shortage of suitors among the airline pilots. When asked for how long she had been married, she replied quite simply that she was still single. I could understand one child for a single mother, but how come two – I asked. She had no choice – it was black magic, she replied.

You must be kidding, I said – You are an intelligent woman, how did you fall for that line? At that Henrietta got quite huffy and scolded me for laughing at her. I was fascinated and after I bought her a drink, she told me this story.

She was sweet sixteen and living with her parents and many sisters and brothers. A local lad was keen on her but she was too naive to know that he only wanted one thing. She told him to get lost. One night, after her parents had retired, she thought she heard a quiet knock on her bedroom window.

Unlatching it, she became aware of a strange compelling scent wafting from a figure crouching in the shadows outside. It was the man who had wanted to marry her. The Trukese are a superstitious race and Henrietta had been brought up by her mother to believe in the power of love potions, as well antidotes to dilute their effect if forewarned. But now she had been caught unawares.

She knew immediately her suitor must have sailed away to one of the outer islands and from someone dealing in black magic, had obtained a love potion. Her mind in a hypnotic daze, she soon succumbed to his advances, while as far as the suitor was concerned, the canoe trip over rough seas to get the potion was worth every penny – or US dollar. Twice Henrietta fell pregnant before the spell wore off leaving the boyfriend to try his luck elsewhere.

Her story intrigued me and back on base I talked to Pamela, an island lady married to an Australian surveyor. I told her of my conversation with Henrietta. She was not surprised and explained that superstitions had existed all over the Pacific for centuries. She herself believed implicitly in certain events, despite being educated in Australia where magic spells are unheard of. But, she said, when sensing I was more than casually interested in this love potion thing – take my advice and never stuff around with black magic, because it can turn around and bite you. Meaning of course it can bring bad luck as well as good luck.

The potion concerned is gathered in a small phial and rubbed into the skin. Once the object of desire is aware of it’s scent it is only a matter of time before you are in like Flynn – that was according to Freddie our Trukese refueller, when I asked him during my next flight there.

A few weeks later I was in Hong Kong and bought some Brute after-shave. Back again on my island after dropping into Guam and Truk, I hitched a lift to Pamela’s house with goodies from overseas including fruit, veggies and magazines for her husband in return for lunch and a beer. Apart from driving aimlessly around the island clockwise and then counter-clockwise, there was little to do, and to remain sane, pilots would drop in on expatriate friends with goodies and news of the outer world. In turn, the families would welcome the pilots with open arms and something to eat. The local hotel where they stayed had food, but the mice would piddle into the flour and all that sort of thing.

Possessed with an unfortunate warped sense of humour, I had sprinkled after-shave on my arm ( it was good for keeping the mossies away) and when Pamela opened the door I waved my arm in front of her and said in a deep down south voice “Hi Sweetie, what do you think of love potion No.1” All in absolute jest, I might add.

Of course, she was a happily married woman I had known for years and I was practically one of the family. But, she was still a Pacific islander and superstitious. She recoiled in horror and quickly backed away from me. OK, so the Brute aftershave was a bit overpowering, but I was staggered at her response. I tried to explain lamely it was only a joke but it took a while before she calmed down. Even then it was obvious the joke had gone badly wrong. She warned me that islanders never joke about superstition, and that I was playing with fire. This well educated woman who had lived in Australia with her husband and her two attractive daughters, one married to an Australian policeman – clearly still retained deep superstitions from her island culture. Her warning of bad luck was to haunt me within weeks.
It was time of political instability in the government and mutterings in Cabinet about a huge budget deficit. The airline was losing big money and there was ominous rumours of crews being laid off. My seniority in the airline assured my security of tenure – or so I thought at the time.

I was back at Truk a few days later, watching Henrietta cuddle her two adoring children, and I thought maybe the love potion had brought her eventual bundles of joy regardless of the original carnal intent. In those days the internet had not yet arrived so let me fast forward to 2006 and type into Google, the words “Chuuk Love Potions”. Time can play tricks with one’s memory and I confess to sometimes wondering if things really did happen as I remembered it, or was it all the result of my vivid imagination. One site said it all - and I quote:

“Of all the islands scattered throughout the Western Pacific, none is more famous than the Micronesian island of Chuuk for magic spells and potions, especially for potions. The love potions are said to give the powerful attraction needed to attract and hold the object of one’s affection”. So there it was in a nutshell – or maybe a phial?

The last of the passengers were boarding and Heneritta was waving a sad farewell to her offspring. I signed the refueling docket and beckoned slyly to Freddy, the refueller. Slipping him a bottle of duty free from Guam I asked him if it was true that a love potion could guarantee a successful seduction. Of course, captain – he replied. It never fails. Do you want some? Cost you fifty bucks. A swift glance around and I slipped $50 US into his hand and told him I would be back in a couple of weeks. He gave me a wink and said he would have it ready by then.

Now in case you get the wrong idea, my plan was to surprise my ever-loving spouse with the love potion. I can hear you say that you may believe me, but thousands wouldn’t. God’s truth, so help me.

I flew down to Melbourne a few days later. I imagined the love potion was being brewed on some remote outer island of Micronesia and would be carried by outrigger canoe to Truk in time for my next trip. My wife had always hinted she would prefer something of many carats value from overseas as a surprise gift. I had other ideas…

I was having breakfast and reading the paper when there was a phone call from the chief pilot on the island. Fifteen pilots have been retrenched as from today and you are one of them – said the curt voice. Island politics are one thing, but pilot politics can be vicious especially when it comes to who stays and who goes. In short, I was now unemployed. Pamela’s words of warning about playing with the fire of black magic had come to haunt me. I touched wood to break the spell but that didn’t work and I rued the day I talked to Freddie the refueller from Truk.

Two years passed and I drove taxis and became a poorly paid flying instructor. Nearing sixty I was too old for the airlines in Australia. The thought of a career cut short, depressed the hell out of me. Since leaving the airline I had kept in touch with Pamela and her husband and with other islander friends. Perhaps it was out of nostalgia for the good times, rather than anything else.

Back on the island the budget was balanced and within a month of being retrenched, the pilots had their jobs back – all except those who had crossed the airline management’s A team.

At home in Melbourne 3000 miles away from the island, the phone rang. It was the island’s Director of Civil Aviation. There had been a change of management and would I like to come back and fly for the airline again? Pamela and her island friends had put in a good word on my behalf and the President of the island had given the nod. It had taken two years for the black cloud of depression to be lifted and I was elated at the prospect of flying a Boeing again.

Within weeks I was back at Truk. Henrietta had long since left the airline and was now happily married to an Australian engineer who welcomed her children as his own. Freddie the refueller was there, connecting the hose as I walked towards him with a bottle of duty free. He was delighted to see me and remembered my name, asking how much fuel I needed. It was dark with lightning on the horizon and I needed enough to get through to my island plus diversion fuel at this time of the year. I had long since forgotten about the love potion that cost me fifty green-backs.

Freddie hadn’t forgotten, though, and asking me where I had been all this time, he added he still had the potion at home waiting to give it to me. I thought of my loving wife and figured giving her carats would be safer. I wasn’t superstitious, I told myself but nevertheless I wanted nothing to do with the bloody love potion. In any case, one could never be sure if bad luck really exists and I wasn’t willing to take the chance. Once burnt, twice shy was my motto.

“ Thanks for the offer Freddie” I said – “Just give me ten tonnes of fuel and hold the potion…. “
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Old 17th Sep 2014, 17:51
  #102 (permalink)  
Join Date: Apr 2010
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Ahhhh - I can remember when the hotel used to stop serving food half an hour before the flight came in from Australia didn't start serving breakfast until all the morning flights left................ and an Australian Captain who was slightly tipsy most of the time

Nothing on Air Tungaru tho'.... those Heron's...........
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Old 1st Oct 2014, 14:14
  #103 (permalink)  
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Well, there we are then. The amos has again deigned to grace us with yet another wisdom-filled pontification.

All kneel, please.
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Old 1st Oct 2014, 14:32
  #104 (permalink)  
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Amos - You could not be more wrong.
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Old 1st Oct 2014, 20:01
  #105 (permalink)  

Victim of a bored god

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Bye bye Amos!
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Old 3rd Oct 2014, 02:30
  #106 (permalink)  
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Thanks, taily.
Some mothers do have 'em.
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Old 5th Oct 2014, 05:19
  #107 (permalink)  
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Oz
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Article in yesterday's Australian suggesting Republic of Nauru is on the verge of Bankruptcy (again?).

Wonder if this might cause any issue with the fleet?
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Old 5th Oct 2014, 07:05
  #108 (permalink)  
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No not related in any way fleet stays at five
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Old 5th Oct 2014, 11:07
  #109 (permalink)  
Join Date: May 2006
Location: australia
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Cash-strapped Nauru wins court case to have funds from Australian accounts released - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Looks like no problem after all.

Seeing our airline has been on a spending spree with new aircraft (a freighter and two ex-ANZ a/c) it would appear that the Naruan government problems are at arms length from the airline - and so it should be!!
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Old 6th Oct 2014, 12:25
  #110 (permalink)  
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Just received this by email from one of the original Air Nauru pilots. It's a bit cryptic but that is how it was received. He asked for it be posted on this thread.

"I thought I would drop a note to contribute a little to this thread. Reading it brought back many memories.

We often think back to the time we have experiences and remember a company, airline or group and often think it is the same as we ourselves experienced. Unfortunately that is rarely the case as I respectfully point t out as best as my old brain can do.

Firstly though………what I write here is not conjecture. Believe me please it is fact….as I recall.

Firstly there was no such thing as Air Nauru with the Falcon. That was a pure charter run by Bizjet. Bob Atkinson was the Chief Pilot and I know that Don Pinkstone and Ralph Salmon were often the pilots that flew the charters. There was an Air Nauru sign stuck on the aircraft and it was removed once it returned from the trip from Melbourne to Nauru. The aircraft was the only one that was “gravel certified.

The first interviewees for crewing the ex MMA brand new F-28 were interviewed by the Honorary Consul Mr.Holmes, Ansett Execs Captains Lane and Winchcombe. They recruited two captains…the Chief Pilot Peter Lavender and Maurie Baston.
The Office was located on the corner of Swanson and Collins Street in the Bank of NSW building and later moved to Nauru House after it had been built.

The initial crews were Peter Lavender the Chief Pilot. Maurie Baston who was deputy chief pilot, Don Pinkstone, Ralph Salmon, Ted King as captains….FO’s Tony Allen, Martin Berle, Tom Simons and Doug Whitbourn. There was no admin assistant but one was recruited some years later.

Some items that may be of interest. For much of the area there were no maps available at the time so Ralph Salmon and Maurie Baston drew them from graph paper. No letdowns were published for Nauru and as we expanded to Majuro we produced letdowns from blanks sourced from the then Australian DCA.

Fleet expanded to two F-28’s and routes were added to places that some of us had never heard about. Nuie, Wallis, Christmas (Pacific), Manus, Yap, ........... towns named “Paris" and "London" in the Pacific etc.. It was a wonderful geography lesson.

The first Boeing was met by two F-28’s 20,000’ 100nm north and a formation welcome was flown. Ferry crew was Peter Lavender and Rick Fry who later became the CX boss. F28 Crews Spike Jones, Bill Thompson, Barry Tate, Tony Allen, Maurie Baston, Bruce Marquez.

All aircraft were gravel equipped and we flew into such places as Majuro - 5,400 coral. Truk, 5,000 Coral, Yap 4700 Coral, Ponape 5600ft coral..........from memory with routes expanding to Japan, Singapore, NZ etc.

The B-737 was certified with flexible tyre pressure. That was needed to operate into Suva. Land at Nadi. Let the tyres down to 75PSI. Fly to Suva and back to Nadi. Pump up the tyres
(145 PSI I think) and head north again.

A few scares. Runway light failure at Nauru in rain and poor viz. Battery operated portables deployed in time.

Push back at Noumea B727 nose steering gear pin inadvertently left out by towing crew . Major damage to nose gear trying to stop on Nauru. Aircraft stopped about 50 feet from the then 5,600 runway.

At Christmas Island (Pacific) Flight Engineer Jack Riley saved the day in getting a vehicle unloaded from the combi B-727 with no unloading gear. Jacked the vehicle up with fork lift and got the locals to push the aircraft sideways away from the raised vehicle in the freight area.

Inaugural service into Hong Kong - whole crew and VIPs under house arrest in Manila over three days due no military clearance under Martial Law. House arrest was in the Manila Hilton.

Snow removal gear in Kagoshima…a ships hawser see-sawed over the fuselage roof……and brooms on the wings.

Routes to Japan and Samoa etc. flown with basic nav aids only. Omega tried and later INS made it easy. With INS and Omega, found out that Nauru was not in the place published on the maps. Out by about 7 nms.

Two jet stream merging over Kagoshima produced a ground speed during six weeks in winter of about 650kts

Flight plans produced by hand and submitted for each sector by crew.

Such was the fun as the airline grew to nine aircraft and then the B 727s were sold …reduced to 4 B-737. CX requested referee comment for the FE’s and I think all or most were employed by CX.

Tried to get the AFAP to allow the FE’s to crew TAA aircraft but AFAP refused.

Many more stories but my typing is not good ……..just thought I would share a bit of the origins of Air Nauru." Unquote.
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Old 10th Feb 2015, 12:28
  #111 (permalink)  
Join Date: Dec 2010
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Do any of you have a sense for how reliable ON are on their INU-BNE flights? Do they generally tend to be on time or do they have a "flexible" approach to schedules?

I'm planning a trip in a few weeks and feeling uncomfortable about booking a same-day connecting flight out of BNE.

Any tips are welcome.
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Old 10th Feb 2015, 22:44
  #112 (permalink)  
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From my observation, very reliable. They run a good operation.
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Old 11th Feb 2015, 00:08
  #113 (permalink)  
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ON have a pretty good on time record.

Like all airlines there is the odd disruption but their reliability compares favourably with others. With the reported delivery of yet another aircraft in the coming weeks, the reliability can only get better with the ability to substitute an aircraft at short notice should any problems arise.

How do I know? I'm a regular on their services to/from Nauru and connect to the southern states.

Just make your connection time allowance sensible and not like some of those I travel with!!! I've seen some with a one hour connection - booked by their travel agents who didn't even seem to realise the need to get from one terminal to another which in itself can take 45 minutes (train, bus or taxi - the latter is quicker if you're prepared to put up with a whinging taxi driver complaining about a short trip). One tip, go to the domestic check in counters in the arrivals area of the international terminal and check in there. They take your bags and you are now "in the system" for your domestic sector.

I allow a minimum of 2 hours which has been on rare occasions a little tight. Usually as a result of Air Traffic Control imposing some holding on the inbound flight which is not the fault of the airline, or any airline for that matter. Schedule is usually a 5:10pm arrival so I go for something after 7:30pm. I guess the availability of suitable flights depends on where you're heading. I don't mind cooling my heels a bit if I get there quickly and it takes the pressure off - one airline will put you on an earlier flight if you strike the right person. I've had that happen about 20% of the time but it needs to be negotiated at your check in. Once your bags have disappeared into the void they won't entertain any change.

Last edited by down3gr33ns; 11th Feb 2015 at 00:20. Reason: Spelling.
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Old 11th Feb 2015, 07:48
  #114 (permalink)  
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I'm pleased that Air Nauru, and the Nauruan and Australian pilots who are the backbone of Air Nauru, are finally getting the respect they deserve!

Amos...ex Air Nauru 1999.
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Old 11th Feb 2015, 18:35
  #115 (permalink)  
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Thanks for your input down3gr33ns and chimbu warrior. I was thinking of a 4 hour connection so it sounds like I'll be ok unless something major happens.
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Old 12th Feb 2015, 14:25
  #116 (permalink)  
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Location: Devonport Tasmania Australia
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I regularly move Indo crews into and out of Majuro and Kwajalein.

ON are a pain in the butt as they are not living in regular airline computers but their on time record is very good which is just as well when you are dealing with passengers who have a maximum of 8 hours allowed transit time in Australia without visa.
Best regards

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Old 19th Dec 2015, 03:37
  #117 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: pacific islands
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Good day Centaurus and the old boys of ON who frequent this site.
Though you might all like to know that we are flying out of Chuuk/Truk again.
The route is TKK-PNI-KSA-MAJ-TRW-INU with connections to NAN and BNE.
Thought of you and your stories Cent, and the FSM island flying is as magical as you've described. I worked the inaugural with the boss and 2IC, the pleasure was all mine.


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Old 19th Dec 2015, 11:23
  #118 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
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Location: Australia
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Thanks for the info, Coco. In the old days Truk was a tricky place to land at night due often low cloud close-in terrain and rain. The REIL lights were a great comfort though. Would love to wind back the years and fly with Air Nauru all over again.
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Old 20th Dec 2015, 06:45
  #119 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: NNE of where I'd prefer
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'Cept it ain't Air Nauru any more.

The current outfit appears to be very professional and growing steadily under decent and capable management.
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Old 20th Dec 2015, 23:37
  #120 (permalink)  
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Hey Nuts!! You back in country?? Long time no hear PM me.
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