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By Edith G. Alejandro

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 5, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---The Marianas Visitors Authority is seriously looking at the possibility of creating the Commonwealth’s own flag carrier, as it seeks the assistance of Honolulu-based Aloha Airlines to jumpstart the plan.

The MVA is in discussions with Aloha Airlines executives, with local tourism officials reviewing costs and other matters related to the plan.

MVA Board Chair Dave M. Sablan said the proposed flag carrier will initially service the Northern Marianas and later expand its operations to Guam, Palau, and other Pacific islands.

Sablan said the MVA has asked the assistance of Aloha Airlines executives in determining the needed capital to realize the plan as well as other requirements to establish the CNMI’s own flag carrier.

"We need to look after our own affairs. We have to make sure that our air service needs are met while ensuring that we are able to accommodate passengers at lower rates," he said.

Sablan added that the MVA has been gathering data for several years now.

The tourism agency has also sought the assistance of the Commonwealth Ports Authority in determining the feasibility of the proposed project.

He explained that the flag carrier does not have to immediately generate overwhelming return of investments, provided that it does not also incur significant losses.

"It won't be set up to profit but to accommodate the people at lower rates as long as the airline does not lose a penny," Sablan added.

In a separate interview, CPA Executive Director Carlos H. Salas said the proposed project needs further study, adding that there is nothing substantial yet from the initial negotiations undertaken by the MVA and the CPA.

"Is it a viable operation? All these are necessary details that we have to look at. We need experts to help us ensure the safety and maintenance of the program," he explained.

Salas added that if the CNMI is determined to have its own flag carrier, experts from the field should be at hand. "The Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation are strictly monitoring the operations of big and small airline companies. Even big airline companies have safety rating problems. We have to know how to deal with this even at the early part of the planning stage."

Both Salas and Sablan underscored that the CNMI flag carrier will minimize problems associated with domestic air services, given the status of air transportation nowadays.

Only recently, Pacific Island Aviation reduced its flights from Guam to Tinian from daily to three times a week due to low market demand.

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

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