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By Edith G. Alejandro

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 29, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---Aircraft traffic at Saipan International Airport continued to see major reductions in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2002 as a result of the September 11 atrocities in the United States, the Commonwealth Ports Authority disclosed.

Based on a report submitted by the CPA Finance Committee, the number of enplanements—people boarding planes—from October to December 2001 dropped 31 percent compared to the same period in Fiscal Year 2001.

The report added that the number of deplanements—people disembarking—posted a 41-percent decline, while the number of landings went down by 2 percent during the October-December 2001 period.

"The significant drop on the traffic count or activities was caused by the September 11 attacks on America," the report said.

The ports authority noted that, comparing figures from FY 1998 through 2002, FY 2002 posted a record low in the number of enplanements, deplanements and landings, while FY 1998 posted record-high numbers across all three categories.

International traffic count in 1998 soared to over 150,000 enplanements and deplanements, while the first quarter of FY2002 showed less than 100,000.

Airport officials believe, however, that the resumption of direct flights by Korean Airlines and the additional flight frequency of Asiana Airlines will slowly lead the Northern Marianas tourist traffic toward recovery.

Officials added that tourist traffic is also projected to post positive growth once the China Southern Air's Guangzhou-Saipan flights begin April 19.

Officials attribute the steady-but-slow recovery to the continued airline incentive program, which was extended by the CPA in hopes of encouraging foreign carriers to upgrade seating capacities.

Records obtained from the ports authority indicated fruitful results from the incentive program, which grants a 50 percent reduction in arrival and departure fees to CNMI signatory airlines that boost their arrival figures by 15 percent from their current traffic load.

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 upgrades in equipment or an increase in seating capacity.

The Airline Incentive Program has been instrumental in the 16 percent increase in the operating revenue of the ports authority's aviation division in recent years.

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

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