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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 16, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---The House of Representatives is taking aggressive steps to encourage more foreign carriers to provide additional air transport services to the Northern Marianas in an effort to turn around the declining visitor traffic to the islands for over two years now.

House Speaker Ben Fitial yesterday expressed confidence that Armenian Airlines will be able to get the approval of the U.S. Department of Transportation to permit the carrier to operate into Saipan.

The CNMI government, through the Economic Recovery and Revitalization's Aviation Task Force, has been trying to encourage other foreign carriers to provide air transport services to the island following Continental Micronesia's decision to stop direct flights from Asia to Saipan.

The House leadership's move came in light of projections that visitors disembarking at Saipan International Airport are expected to increase again over the next 10 years, although arrival figures are expected to remain at lower levels than that experienced by the Northern Marianas during the past decade.

A report submitted to the Commonwealth Ports Authority [CPA] disclosed that total enplanements at the Saipan International Airport are expected to jump by an annual rate of 4.5 percent.

The report said impacts resulting from the Asian economic crisis are anticipated to continue through Fiscal Year 1999, and potentially into FY 2000.

The future recovery of the Japanese yen may restore passenger demand levels at the airport but at lower levels than were experienced over the past 10 years, a government-commissioned study said.

Armenian Airlines is expected to serve the huge Filipino market on the island with its plan to offer cheaper airfares and more acceptable schedules. Initially, it will provide only charter flights between Saipan and the Philippines.

Mr. Fitial said discussions also are under way on the possibility of the airline flying regularly between Manila and the Northern Marianas.

For many years, Continental Micronesia has cornered a big chunk of the huge Filipino market despite an unfriendly schedule, which required a stopover wait of at least three hours at Guam International Airport.

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

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