Air connectivity is a critical element to economic growth and development for the small island nations of the Caribbean. According to the Caribbean Development Bank, additional air services, frequencies, and traffic volumes contribute to increased employment opportunities and benefit the broader economy through catalytic effects – benefits created by, rather than within aviation. In the Caribbean, the relationship between aviation and economic growth is mainly through travel facilitation to support the tourism industry, which is the region’s primary income earner and supports various other businesses.
Estimates from the World Tourism & Travel Council show that travel and tourism’s total contribution to Caribbean GDP was $57.1 billion in 2017 (15.2% of GDP). It is forecast to rise by 3.6% per annum to $84 billion by 2028 (17.8% of GDP). Travel and tourism directly generated 758,000 jobs in 2017 (4.3% of total employment). In recognition of this significant value-added, several Caribbean governments have increased connectivity and airlift into their respective territories.
For Micronesia residents, the “Island Hopper,” a United Airlines flight that leaves Honolulu for Guam four times a week, is a lifeline. It brings cargo, mail, food, medical supplies, family members, business people, and essential tourism dollars to the remote islands far faster and more reliably than supply ships. The flight spans five hours from Honolulu to Majuro (crossing the International Dateline on the way), then 90 minutes to the army airfield in Kwajalein, one hour on to Kosrae, another hour to Pohnpei, one more hour to Chuuk, and finally another two hours to Guam.
A large part of the islands’ economies has depended on the Island Hopper for 50 years, notably the tourism industry. Chuuk Lagoon is one of the world’s best scuba diving destinations, but without regular flight tourism in Chuuk would not exist. Some of the islands it stops at are so remote the airline carries a mechanic onboard to ensure the service maintains its reliability.