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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 24, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---In anticipation of an influx of visitors to Saipan this summer, Northwest Airlines plans to replace its current DC 10 aircraft with a B747 to accommodate additional passengers.

However, in exchange for the increased seat capacity, Northwest Airlines wants the Commonwealth Ports Authority (CPA) to extend its reduced fee incentive program until October 2000.

According to Martin Gross, Northwest Airlines General Manager for the Philippines and Micronesia, the proposal will make it economically feasible for the airline to carry out its plan to use a bigger aircraft.

"If we are unable to accomplish this goal, the 747 will be assigned to other competing Northwest Airlines regions, which are simultaneously pushing for an upgrade of their aircraft," said Gross.

The 371-seater Boeing 747 aircraft will be able to accommodate an additional 49 passengers per flight compared to the DC-10.

CPA Board Chairman Roman S. Palacios said the ports authority will study the airline's request and will make an analysis of its effect on airport debt payments.

Earlier, Thomas C. Kennedy, finance director for Northwest's Pacific region, had asked CPA to defer implementation of its incentive program for airlines servicing the CNMI because it could not immediately change its current DC10 aircraft to a B747.

CPA has granted a 50 percent cut in departure and arrival fees to all signatory airlines servicing the Northern Marianas to entice them to increase traffic and revive the ailing tourism economy.

The incentive, which will remain in effect until February 29, 2000, will be extended to carriers that can provide an additional 15 percent increase in the number of passengers that they bring in, using the first six months traffic in fiscal year 1998 as the traffic base.

CPA Executive Director Carlos H. Salas had expressed concern in altering the date of the incentive program because it is critical in terms of generating the needed revenue to meet debt service coverage and the imposition of the new airport rates in March 2000.

Despite the financial difficulty besetting the ports authority, the board granted the incentive to signatory airlines as proof of its commitment to improve the tourism economy. However, it did not approve a reduction in landing fees sought by Northwest since it would be difficult to provide equal incentives to all the four airlines using different types of aircraft.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT

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