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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 28, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---The Commonwealth Ports Authority is bringing its protest against Continental Micronesia's treatment of Guam and Saipan as co-terminals into higher gear by seeking support from the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs.

In a letter to Insular Affairs Director Danny Aranza, CPA Board Chair Roman S. Palacios said the Northern Marianas suffered tremendous economic losses due to Continental Micronesia's decision to abandon direct flights between Saipan and two Japanese cities.

At the same time, Ports Authority Executive Director Carlos H. Salas underscored the agency's opposition on the application of the carrier to renew its authority to operate on Route 171, Segment 9, or between Saipan/Guam and Sapporo/Sendai, Japan.

"The application for renewal, if approved, will allow Continental Micronesia to continue to serve Guam and Saipan as co-terminals from Sapporo and Sendai," the two CPA officials told Mr. Aranza in the letter.

A similar letter has been sent to the Office of the CNMI Representative in the nation's capital, Washington D.C.

The ports authority is pressing the United States Department of Transportation to recognize Guam and Saipan as separate destinations that should receive separate direct air transport services from Continental Micronesia.

Continental Micronesia's decision to cut down services to the Northern Marianas meant a 64 percent reduction in total direct international flights to Saipan between 1997 and 1999, bringing only 74,000 passengers into the CNMI last year.

In 1997, Continental Micronesia had more than 700 direct Japan-Saipan flights each year. The carrier does not currently have even a single direct flight between Saipan and Japan.

CPA has observed a declining trend in the volume of passengers arriving on Saipan on board Continental Micronesia beginning in 1996. The airline's passenger haul dropped by 23 percent, from 166,000 to 127,000, during the period covering calendar years 1996 and 1997.

In 1998, the volume of passengers brought in by the carrier to Saipan was lower by 23 percent compared with the previous year's level, from 127,000 to 98,000.

The figure dipped a further percent last year, totaling only 74,000 passengers by the end of December 1999.

The carrier downsized its air transport services to the Northern Marianas by seven percent during the period covering 1996 and 1997.

The following year, the airline company reduced its direct flights to Saipan by a whooping 43 percent, then again in 1999 when Continental slashed services to the island by a painful 37 percent.

Due to these drastic reductions in air transport services to the CNMI, CPA filed with the transportation department a protest against Continental Micronesia's treatment of Guam and Saipan as co-terminals, saying it does not guarantee direct flights between the two Japanese cities and Saipan.

The Micronesian islands' flag carrier now is seeking to renew its five weekly Saipan-Guam-Sapporo flights and daily Saipan-Guam-Sendai air transport service.

Under its existing authority, Continental Micronesia can operate air transport service between Saipan and Guam and Sendai and Sapporo, the two islands being treated as co-terminal points.

The current arrangement makes it appear that a service to either Saipan or Guam is an equal service to both islands.

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

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