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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 27, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---Inbound traffic to Saipan International Airport dropped by 24 percent in November last year compared with landing statistics during the same period in 1998, apparently as a result of Continental Micronesia's decision to cut back its CNMI operations.

A financial report prepared by the Commonwealth Ports Authority disclosed a sharp decline in the number of inbound international flights at the Saipan airport, to only 260 last year from 342 in November 1998.

However, deplanements actually increased by 25 percent from 30,520 two years ago to 38,209 last year, while enplanements grew by eight percent from 40,329 to 43,450.

During the first two months of fiscal year 2000, international enplanements and deplanements exceeded the previous level by 14 percent and 31 percent, respectively, although the landing tally was still behind by 24 percent.

According to the CPA report, Japan Airlines, among the four major carriers operating in the Northern Marianas, cornered the bulk of international enplanements during the same period.

Due to the increase in enplanement and deplanement statistics, CPA's aviation division registered a significant 34 percent increase in operating revenues, from $655,632 to $879,095 November last year.

Ports Authority Board Chairman Roman S. Palacios noted that growth in the international enplanement and deplanement figures was the main contributing factor in the increase in the agency's operating revenues.

"We are beginning to see the relationship between the number of enplaned passengers and the revenues from the prime concessionaires and restaurants in the main terminal," said CPA finance committee Chair Roman Tudela.

The financial report also revealed that income from the restaurants and prime concessionaires during the first part of fiscal year 2000 has been exceeding fiscal year 1999 levels for the same period.

"The departing international tourists are spending more at the DFS shop than last year. The appreciation of the Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar is taking its course," the report said.

At the same time, CPA's airport operation incurred a net loss of $342,764 in November 1999, compared with the previous year's tally. In November 1998, CPA incurred $418,735 in total losses, which is higher by $75,971 than last year's tally.

The figure manifests an improvement in the ports authority's net loss by 19 percent.

The aviation division has achieved a 2.60 debt coverage ratio from the required debt coverage of 1.25, higher by 35 percent. This means that CPA generated an additional $197,041 from its operating activities.

By vigorously pursuing its austerity programs, the Ports Authority expected a dramatic reduction in expenses for FY 1999 and envisions minimum expense growth from now on.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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