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Aussie company begins work to secure permit from DOT

By Aldwin R. Fajardo Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (September 26, 2000 - Saipan Tribune)---An Australia-based airline company has started serious efforts to secure a permit from the United States Department of Transportation that would allow the carrier to provide direct flights between Sydney and Saipan.

Board Chair Roman S. Palacios said that Oceania Air Incorporated has been in constant communication with the Commonwealth Ports Authority since early this year, after the airline company expressed intentions to fly between Sydney and Saipan.

Mr. Palacios said Oceania Air is also planning to launch direct cargo service between Saipan and Australia, adding that company president Rex Banks has informed CPA that the carrier just recently acquired two 727-200 aircraft.

"CPA fully supports direct flight from Australia to Saipan," Mr. Palacios said in a letter to Mr. Banks. "We wish you success in implementing your business plan for such services."

The carrier's proposal to fly direct to Saipan came as welcome news to the CNMI government, which created the Aviation Task Force specifically to lure foreign carriers into providing air transport services between the Northern Marianas and other destinations.

Oceania Air is planning to utilize the new 727 aircraft to carry cargo and passengers between Australia and the CNMI in its proposed flight services to Saipan from Sydney.

The Marianas Visitors Authority has noted a significant drop in the arrival of visitors to the CNMI since early 1998, after major Asian currencies tumbled against the American greenback.

Arrival figures spiraled down to 490,200 in 1998 from the previous year's 694,900. In 1996, more than 730,000 visitors from Japan, Korea and other countries took a trip to the islands.

While arrival statistics improved last year to 501,800 visitors, business analysts said the increase was not significant enough to effectively reach the cash registers of department and duty-free stores around the island.

Officials pointed out that while Japanese and Korean tourists have started taking overseas trips again, consumer confidence in most parts of Asia has remained weak and is not likely to improve within the year.

Industry players are concerned about the spending behavior of younger travelers, particularly women, who are no longer taking overseas trips as much as they did in the past.

A financial report prepared by the 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, deplanement increased by 25 percent, from 30,520 two years ago to 38,209 last year, while enplanement grew by eight percent from 40,329 to 43,450.

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

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