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By Edith G. Alejandro

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 8) - Continental Micronesia has extended its Saipan-Manila direct air service indefinitely as market performance showed good indication of possible rebound in tourist traffic.

Along with the extension of the direct air service, Continental Airlines also announced changes in its flight schedule beginning March 1, 2004.

In statement released by the airline company, it disclosed that beginning March 1, the Saipan-Manila direct air service would start its Tuesday and Friday flight schedules instead of the bi-weekly Tuesday and Thursday.

"Continental Airlines is happy to announce that we are extending our Saipan-Manila nonstop service until further notice. In addition, beginning March 1, we will change the day of week service from Tuesdays/Thursdays to Tuesdays and Fridays," reads part of the release.

The new flight schedule only alters the days of service; flight schedules for departures and arrivals from the Saipan International Airport and Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, the Philippines, remain the same.

According to Continental Airlines Saipan Office resident manager Ivan Quichocho, the extension is in response to the demand by the traveling public, both on Saipan and the Philippines.

"We needed the flights to be successful at first to make us continue; and we are doing good so far," said Quichocho.

The manager, however, refused to give additional details as to how long the extension is going to last. He directed inquiries to Marketing and Sales vice president Wally Dias.

Continental Airlines, which began its Saipan-Manila direct air service on Dec. 9, 2003, first approved a temporary nonstop direct service to the Philippines in response to mounting demands from the community.

Originally, Continental Airlines pegged January 2004 as the end of its direct flights to Manila. However, increased consumer demand prompted the extension of the nonstop air service up to March 2004.

"If there would be continued demand, the service might stay longer," Quichocho earlier said, adding that the nonstop air service would remain so long as there is a market demand for it.

Continental decided in 2003 to reinstate its direct Saipan-Manila service after the U.S. Homeland Security Department suspended its Transit Without Visa and International-To-International programs in July 2003.

Presently, only Continental Airlines serves the Manila-Saipan direct route. All other airline companies route their flights to Manila via Seoul, Korea and Japan.

February 9, 2004

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