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By Edith G. Alejandro Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 5, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---Aircraft traffic at Saipan International Airport dropped 77 percent in April 2001, which explains the reason behind a nine percent decline in the number of people disembarking at the island's air transport facility.

A report obtained from the Commonwealth Ports Authority disclosed a nine percent fall in arrival figures in April 2001 compared to last year -- 42,999 last year and 38,987 this year.

The nine-percent drop in arrival figures is practically low, considering the 77 percent decline in aircraft landings, which translates to close to 800 flights.

Airport officials attribute the ironically low discrepancy in deplanement figures despite a sharp reduction in the number of aircraft landings to the Commonwealth Ports Authority's airline incentive program, which encouraged foreign carriers to upgrade seating capacity.

Records obtained from the ports authority indicate fruitful results from the incentive program that grants a 50 percent reduction in arrival and departure fees to CNMI signatory airlines that are able to bring up their arrival figures by 15 percent.

To qualify under the CPA Airline Incentive Program, airline companies need not increase flights between Saipan and foreign countries but bring in more people through upgrading equipment and increasing seating capacity.

The Airline Incentive Program has resulted in a 16 percent increase in the operating revenues of the ports authority's aviation division.

Compared to year-ago statistics, the number of international enplanements in April 2001 dropped by 2,260 passengers while deplanements fell by 4,012 passengers. Aircraft landing during the same period was down by 795 flights.

The dramatic decline in international aircraft traffic to Saipan has been attributed to Continental Airlines' decision to streamline operations in the Northern Marianas. Continental Micronesia stopped the deployment of 83 flights to the Northern Marianas in the month of March.

However, passenger arrivals at Saipan International Airport grew by 12 percent in the first seven months of Fiscal Year 2001, from 271,420 during the October 1999-April 2000 period to 304,131 during October 2000-April 2001.

At the same time, international flights to Saipan rose three percent from last financial year's 1,846 to this year's 1,900 flights. Departure figures registered a very minimal decline from 301,920 last year to this year's 301,216.

CPA also disclosed that Japan Airlines continues to control the market, followed by Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and Asiana Airlines.

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