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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 1, 2002 – Marianas Variety)---Palau and the CNMI welcome the establishment of a connecting flight with Asian destinations, including a possible Cebu Pacific Air flight from Manila.

Northern Mariana Islands Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente met with Palau President Tommy Remengesau last week to discuss the possibility of a Manila-Koror-Saipan route.

"Cebu Pacific is interested in pursuing the Manila-Koror flight so I made it a point to visit my good friend, Palau President Tommy Remengesau, and offer an opportunity for joint cooperation on making that route a reality," Benavente said in an interview.

Benavente was in Palau to attend an Environmental Protection Agency-sponsored conference.

He said he and Remengesau believe that the new flights will make international travel to the CNMI and Palau more convenient and affordable.

"All of us in the leadership here in Micronesia are pushing for that. Everybody in the region has been attempting to bring in additional airlines, a better schedules of flights -- more convenient and less expensive flights," he said.

Benavente said a Palau-Saipan route is promising.

"I think there’s potential. There are a lot of travelers going back and forth between Palau through Guam. I think the opportunity is to fly to Saipan, then get a flight to Japan to get to the U.S. West Coast, which is cheaper," he said.

Cebu Pacific, the second largest airline in the Philippines, earlier expressed interest in the Koror-Saipan route.

Cebu Pacific officials met with CNMI officials, led by Benavente, in Manila last May.

The airline, which recently launched a flight to Hong Kong, has a fleet of 12 DC9 aircraft.

Cebu Pacific, ISO 9002 certified, in Nov. 1999 became the first airline in the Philippines to be issued an AQS 9000/121 certification for all aspects of its operations by the Institute of Aviation Quality and Safety.

However, Cebu Pacific has no existing permit to operate in Micronesia and this may delay the start of a Koror-Saipan flight service.

But Benavente said the CNMI government is committed to assist airlines secure a Saipan route.

He added that the CNMI will not only pursue a connecting flight to Manila, "but all over Asia."

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

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