By Agnes E. Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dece. 9) - Continental Micronesia will begin tonight its new non-stop service between Saipan and Manila.

The flights will be serviced by a Boeing 737-800, which is configured with 14 business class seats and 141 economy class seats.

The flight will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It will depart Saipan at 9:10 p.m. and arrive in Manila 10:45 p.m. From Manila, the flight will depart at 10:55 p.m. and arrive on Saipan at 4:35 a.m.

Flight time between Saipan and Manila is approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes.

The new service was initially slated to operate only during the holiday season and end on Jan. 31, 2004.

But strong consumer demand prompted the airline management to extend the flight’s operation to April.

"If demand for this flight remains strong we will look into the possibility of making the schedule permanent. But this decision really will rely on how much long-term traffic can be sustained between the two destinations," Continental Micronesia president and chief executive officer Mark Erwin said.

Erwin noted that the non-stop flights will allow non-U.S. citizens to travel directly between Manila and Saipan without visa restrictions currently in place for those who go through Guam.

Continental Micronesia is the only carrier to operate non-stop flights between Saipan and Manila.

The CNMI’s tourism industry had called on airline companies to initiate direct flights to Saipan from Manila and Hong Kong after the federal government suspended the transit without visa program effective July 24.

December 9, 2003

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