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By Edith G. Alejandro

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 4, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---The Commonwealth Ports Authority will continue negotiations with three major Chinese airline companies to help revive the local tourism industry from a deep slump caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

CPA Executive Director Carlos H. Salas said negotiations are ongoing between three airline executives and the agency for possible China-CNMI air services.

"China has always been a potential market. But we have to address immigration issues," Salas said.

He said the ports authority is in regular communication with Southern China Airlines, Eastern China Air, and Zhenshen Airlines, which earlier indicated interest in providing air service between key cities in China and the Northern Marianas.

Salas added that the CPA is also hoping to tap the assistance of Guangdong Airlines.

He stressed that negotiations will continue as the CPA awaits the completion of the West Tinian International Airport, which is expected to be finished by late August. Inauguration of the refurbished facility is scheduled for September 2002.

Salas said that, aside from the CPA, the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino is also exploring ways to entice the entry of new carriers into the Northern Marianas.

At the same time, the CPA is also looking at the possibility of reviving Pusan (South Korea)-Saipan flights this year, as well as an expansion of existing air transport services between the CNMI and other major cities in Korea and Japan.

"The Korean economy is now on the rebound while the Japan economy has been showing positive signs," he said.

On January 11, Korean Airlines will resume its Seoul-Saipan flights. This is taking place following the Federal Aviation Administration’s upgrading of the safety rating of the Korean Civil Aviation Authority to Category 1. This category level gives the Korean government the ability to reinstate services to all American airports and provide additional flights on existing routes.

CPA Board Chair Roman S. Palacios said this should come as welcome news to the Commonwealth's ailing tourism industry, pointing out that this means additional flights and possibly additional tourists for the Northern Marianas.

He said that with the upgraded category level, both Korean Air and Asiana Airlines can serve all U.S. airports, adding that it also reinstated the Korean companies’ authority to again code-share flights with U.S. carriers.

With the resumption of Korean Air's services, the Northern Marianas is looking at a total of 8,176 new available seats every month.

Asiana Airlines also is deploying three more direct flights from Seoul to Saipan. The additional flights will bring service to 10 regular flights every week, and will provide an additional 2,124 seats every month.

The combined new Korean Air and Asiana Airlines services mean 10,300 additional seats to Saipan every month.

Palacios added that the CNMI projects 123,000 additional tourists in the next 12 months.

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

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