MIAMI— On May 16, 1968, Continental Airlines and other investors founded Air Micronesia, headquartered in the island of Saipan, to serve the U.S. island territories known as the Federated States of Micronesia.  The initial fleet consisted of a Boeing 727-100 and a Douglas DC-6, as well as two Grumman Albatross amphibian aircraft for destinations that did not have airports at the time.  The introduction of jet aircraft, like the 727, opened up tourist access, especially from Asia, to the Micronesian region and allowed many locals to travel beyond their familiar surroundings for the first time.

As many of the Pacific territories reorganized and gained more autonomy, air traffic to Saipan decreased, but it grew rapidly in the island of Guam.  As a result, the airline moved its headquarters to Guam’s Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport (GUM).  The first flights from Guam to Japan started in the early 1980s, as Continental’s share and role in Air Micronesia grew, and the new name of the carrier became Continental Air Micronesia.

The airline’s callsign “Air Mike” was an abbreviation of the original Air Micronesia name.  Moreover, the carrier had the distinction of having the only scheduled service between Guam and one of the 50 U.S. states, Hawaii.  Furthermore, by the time Continental had full ownership, the name of the company became the familiar Continental Micronesia.

Courtesy: Chris Sloan
Courtesy: Chris Sloan

When Continental Airlines embarked on a major fleet modernization in the late 1990s, the most common member of the Continental Micronesia fleet became the Boeing 737-800.  Larger aircraft like the Boeing 767-400 and 777-200 operated the direct flights to Honolulu (HNL), which was beyond the range of the 737.  In addition, Caper Air, which flew regional operations for Continental in the U.S. East Coast, arrived in Guam on July 1, 2004 to serve Saipan with turboprops in lieu of the 737.

In 2003, the airline leased GUM’s Commuter Terminal for its entire hub operation.  Another distinction held by Continental Micronesia was that it became the largest private sector employer in Guam with 1,500 employees.  The airline experienced profitability high demand, especially in its flights to HNL and Japan.

The economic recession of 2008 contributed to higher fuel costs and resulted in Continental Micronesia having to put any expansion plans on hold.  Moreover, this spike in fuel prices led to the elimination of flights to Hong Kong and Bali, as well as the end of flights to Saipan, its original hub, which only had service to Manila by 2008.  The airline eventually resumed service to Hong Kong and Saipan.

Courtesy: Wikimedia

On May 2, 2010 Continental Airlines and United Airlines announced plans to merge, leaving questions about the future of Continental Micronesia.  Before the completion of the merger on March 3, 2012, Continental and Continental Micronesia combined in to a single operating certificate (SOC), marking the end of Continental Micronesia and its “Air Mike” callsign.  After contract negotiations, the workforce in Guam joined the merged airline and Guam remains a hub in the combined United Continental Holdings network.

United’s Current Operations

United currently flies to 18 destinations out of its GUM hub.  The only major change from the Continental Micronesia network is the addition of service to Shanghai in 2014, marking the first time the island of Guam serves mainland China.  Boeing 737 -700s and -800s fly the bulk of the operations, while 777s operate all flights to HNL and some of the ones to Tokyo Narita.  Cape Air has a fleet of three ATR 42s as United Express in Micronesia.

One of the highlights of United’s network in Micronesia is the “Island Hopper” GUM – HNL route, which was in place before the merger.  This service takes place three times per week and lasts over 14 hours.  In addition, it requires an extra pilot and flight attendant, a mechanic, and spare parts in case of mechanical problems.  The stops between GUM and HNL are Truk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein, and Majuro.

Some of the islands in the route network have very sparse populations and do not require daily GUM service.  Some of these services fly as little as twice per week.  On the opposite end, daily United flights out of GUM go to Honolulu; Manila, Philippines; Nagoya, Japan; and Fukuoka, Nagoya Osaka, and Tokyo in Japan.  Furthermore, Cape Air flies daily service to Saipan.