By Agnes E. Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 2) - Due to the absence of airport screeners, the arrival of the first direct flight to Tinian will not push through as scheduled, Variety learned.

Carlos Salas, executive director of the Commonwealth Ports Authority, said the plan to have the China Southern Airlines fly, for the first time, directly to Tinian could not proceed because the Transportation Security Administration does not have screeners to accommodate Tinian flight plans.

The first direct flight to Tinian was supposed to arrive at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

According to Salas, the West Tinian International Airport needs 10 or more screeners to handle the checkpoint and the baggage of the passengers.

He said they initially planned to have screeners at the Saipan international airport go to Tinian and help inspect passengers at the international airport there.

But Salas noted that this cannot be done anymore, as even Saipan does not have enough screeners.

Nine federal inspectors at the Saipan airport were terminated weeks ago "for failing to live up to the high standards...set (by TSA) for its screeners."

As a result, only one of the three lanes for screening passengers is currently operating.

"We understand that (TSA has) budget cutbacks...(but) there are many options, I think," Salas told Variety.

He said TSA does not have to hire new people right away.

"They can deploy some people here on a temporary basis and then do their hiring. They can also send mobile screeners here while they are hiring. Whatever’s (going to) work," he added.

Salas said there has been an instance before when mobile screeners had been called in to take care of the immediate operations in the local airports.

He said they do not know yet when the first direct flight to Tinian will happen.

"We’re telling TSA that we have flights that we have to take care of. But it’s just a wait-and-see thing right now, as far as (CPA) is concerned," Salas said.

Direct flights to Tinian were expected after the completion of its airport’s new $24 million runway.

During its inauguration in July, government officials and businessmen noted the significance of the new runway in attracting tourists and investors to Tinian.

September 2, 2003

Marianas Variety:


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