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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Deleno Pacific Daily News

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 1, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---A delegation from the Northern Mariana islands tourism industry is traveling to South Korea next week in hopes of finalizing the details of Korean Air's plan to resume service to Saipan, an industry official said yesterday.

Northwest Airlines also plans to add seats between Japan and Saipan in July, a Tokyo-based executive of the airline announced yesterday.

Airlines' roles in tourism were discussed at a tourism ''summit'' in the Saipan Diamond hotel ballroom yesterday.

Gerald Perez, president of DFS Guam, and John Salas, with the University of Guam, were invited to present their views.

Korean Air has decided to return to Saipan in November, but the details, such as frequency of service, have yet to be ironed out, said David M. Sablan, chairman of the board of the Marianas Visitors Authority.

''Korean Air is coming back to Saipan in November,'' Sablan, who is expected to be a part of the delegation, said. ''Next week we're going to Korea to solidify that.''

Korean Air pulled out of Guam and Saipan after Korean Air Flight 801 crashed on approach to Guam's international airport on August 6, 1997. The crash claimed the lives of 229 of the 254 people on board.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report has blamed pilot error, fatigue and inadequate flight crew training as causes of the crash, but the board also has also noted that the ground-based altitude warning system on Guam was not working properly when the plane crashed into a grassy hillside, according to Pacific Daily News files.

Sablan said he didn't know if Korean Air would also resume service to Guam.

If Korean Air does resume service to Saipan, the airline is expected to help boost seat capacity that the Northern Mariana Islands tourism industry needs in light of its continuing struggle to recover from almost four years of weak tourist arrival numbers.

Northern Marianas tourist arrivals have fluctuated from month to month this year. The islands had four percent more visitors in January 2001 compared to the same month last year, but saw a nearly 4 percent decline the next month, visitors bureau numbers show.

Northern Marianas visitor arrivals have hovered at 44,000 a month.

Northwest Airlines' plans to increase seat capacity by 23 percent to the Northern Marianas' main island of Saipan in July was announced yesterday by Masaaki Ito, a manager with the airline's agency and group sales for eastern Japan.

Sablan said those airline developments offer encouragement to the Northern Marianas tourism industry, but added that the industry faces a challenge to fill the extra airline seats.

Airlines will not continue to make extra flight seats available for the Northern Marianas tourism industry if those seats are left empty, Sablan said.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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