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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 3, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---A Taipei-based airline company has indicated its intention to provide air transportation services between Taiwan and the Northern Marianas beginning this coming summer, Commonwealth Ports Authority (CPA) Executive Director Carlos H. Salas disclosed yesterday.

Mr. Salas said Mandarin Airlines has written CPA signifying its plan to ferry Taiwanese passengers between Taipei and Saipan using 737-800 aircraft on a charter schedule beginning either in May or June of this year.

The aircraft can accommodate more than 120 passengers.

Discussions between Ports Authority and airline officials started last week, although Mr. Salas admitted that negotiations for the possible entry of the Taiwanese carrier into Saipan are still in the early stage.

Mandarin Air, a subsidiary of China Airlines, initially focused on servicing Taiwan domestic routes. The carrier, however, is expanding to include international flights and has expressed its intention to provide air transport service to the CNMI.

"The carrier is basically a subsidiary of China Air, which has an air agreement with the United States. So I see no major stumbling block. In addition, since it is under China Air, it must be a very profitable company," Mr. Salas added.

China Airlines has access to all United States airports. It currently provides air transport service to the neighboring island of Guam.

Chairman of the Governor’s Aviation Task Force, JM Guerrero, earlier wrote Far Eastern Air Transport Corporation (FAT) president Y.L. Lee reaffirming the Commonwealth government's steadfast interest to work with the carrier in providing direct flights between Taipei and Saipan.

Guerrero cited the growing number of Taiwanese travelers flying to Guam, as indicated by China Airlines' flight services to Saipan's neighboring island. He pointed out that China Airlines provides two successful flights to Guam each week on a chartered basis.

Members of the Aviation Task Force exchanged communication with the Richmond International Travel & Tours Co., after visiting FAT offices in November 1998.

In September 1998, FAT was reported to have applied for a license from the United States Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., following its expressed intentions to provide direct international flights from Taipei to Tinian.

FAT was proposing to use Boeing 757 aircraft, which, aside from 727 models, is the only bigger airplane model that can be accommodated by the existing West Tinian International Airport runway.

Mr. Salas said CPA will coordinate efforts to entice Mandarin Air to service Saipan with the Department of Labor and Immigration and the Marianas Visitors Authority to address possible impediments on the entry of travelers from Taiwan.

The Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) has implemented restrictions on the entry of People's Republic of China nationals into the Northern Marianas, citing problems previously encountered by the CNMI in dealing with numerous Chinese overstayers.

Beijing has previously been uncooperative in the re-admission of deportable Chinese nationals who have overstayed on the islands.

Although Taiwan is not part of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Salas said there may still be a need to coordinate the matter with DOLI and the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) to pave the road for a smooth sailing discussion between aviation officials and Mandarin Air executives.

Visitors from mainland China are allowed to come to the CNMI by invitation. At present, the CNMI government only allows mainland Chinese with Hong Kong identification cards or British passports to visit the Northern Marianas.

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

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