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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 25, 2000 – Saipan Tribune/Abridged)---Improvement of the Rota International Airport runway and other facilities may take longer than planned due to the unavailability of federal funds from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In a letter addressed to Rota Mayor Benjamin Manglona, FAA Airports District Office Acting Manager Daniel S. Matsumoto said there are insufficient funds available under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to finance the island's request for runway surface treatment and other projects.

"There is not enough AIP funding available to carry out all projects in the CNMI. However, we will hold the (Rota) application until funding becomes available," Mr. Matsumoto said.

He was responding to a letter by Mr. Manglona asking for immediate FAA assistance for the improvement and rehabilitation of Rota’s airport runway and facilities.

"The island of Rota is now ready to embark on becoming a major tourist destination. However, the impediment to our success is the desperate condition of our airport runway and facilities," Mr. Manglona said.

The Mayor emphasized that prospects are bright for the island's economic program, but are not expected to take off unless Rota's air transportation woes, including the absence of sufficient infrastructure, are addressed.

He added that jet service to and from the island would only become possible if and when airport runway and terminal facilities are rehabilitated and improved.

Mr. Manglona emphasized that a continuous delay in improvement of Rota International Airport would be counterproductive considering the local government's plans to advance the island's economic potential.

Commonwealth Ports Authority Executive Director Carlos H. Salas earlier disclosed that planning work is under way regarding the design and resealing of Rota's airport runway.

CPA also plans to eventually extend the Rota runway in order to accommodate bigger aircraft direct from Asian countries, although this development has to take a back seat in favor of Tinian.

Expansion of the West Tinian International Airport is a higher priority because of the existence of the casino gaming industry on the island, which officials say warrants international flights direct from Asian countries.

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

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