SAIPAN PICKED FOR REGIONAL AVIATION TRAINING HUB

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By Gemma Q Casas

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 2, 2001 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Saipan International Airport has been selected as the site for a proposed $3 million Aircraft Rescue Regional Training Facility for United States territories and associated countries in the Pacific Region, the Commonwealth Ports Authority has announced.

Carlos H. Salas, the authority's executive director, said the project includes the construction of an Environmental Protection Agency-approved fuel pit. This will be used during live fire drills for fire fighters, pilots and other airport personnel from within the Pacific Rim.

Salas said the United States Federal Aviation Administration chose Saipan over other island nations because of its "palatable site," which authorities believe is ideal for training involving live fire drills.

"I think Saipan was chosen because it offers a more palatable site for a fire pit. It is away from the main populated areas, unlike Guam Airport, which is surrounded with communities," he said.

Salas said the agency is now preparing technical documents so that they can start soliciting bids from interested contractors.

The Federal Aviation Authority is reportedly hoping to start working on the project within the year.

The project is envisioned to become the pride of the Marianas and the envy of other island-nations.

The 25-year-old Saipan International Airport is said to be lagging behind the other U.S insular areas and territories in the region in terms of technical facilities. However, FAA has begun helping Saipan International Airport in its quest for a more modern airport since last year, pouring in millions of dollars in technical financial assistance.

Late last year, FAA took over the maintenance cost and repair of airport equipment and navigational aids at the airport by establishing a home base on Saipan.

FAA shoulders the maintenance cost and repair of airport equipment including the salaries of its personnel based here.

The move was geared to immediately attend to whatever aviation technical needs the Northern Marianas may have.

Local authorities believe these developments will help boost the government’s efforts to lure back more tourists, particularly the Japanese, whose arrivals rate has declined over the last three years.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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