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By Jude O. Marfil

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 5) –The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved China Southern Airlines’ application to service the Shanghai-Saipan and Guangzhou-Saipan routes.

However, China Southern asked the DOT to defer the processing of its application to fly to Tinian until the airport on that island meets the standards set by the Department of Homeland Security.

In a December 20, 2004 letter to DOT, China Southern said it wanted first to wait until a security assessment at Tinian airport is completed.

"China Southern wanted to wait until Tinian airport is federalized before they renew their application," said Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Carlos H. Salas.

"Federalizing" Tinian airport means that the facilities, particularly the security system is approved by the Transportation Security Administration.

This means Tinian airport must be equipped with X-ray machines and manned by TSA screeners who will ensure that no explosive or harmful devices get inside the airport, or aboard the aircraft.

"We are continuing to work with TSA to get Tinian airport federalized asap (as soon as possible)," said Salas, whose office is in charge of maintaining operations at all ports in the CNMI.

Under the notice, which DoT issued on December 29, 2004, Paul L. Gretch, director for the Office of International Aviation, found China Southern "qualified to perform operations."

Tourism industry observers believe mounting flights from Tinian to Shanghai and Guangzhou will boost economic activity on said island.

Based on CPA records, the numbers of enplaned passengers to Tinian increased to 35,767 from October 2003 to August 2004, from 28,968 during the same period a year ago.

China Southern’s chance to transport passengers from Shanghai to Saipan spells good news for the CNMI.

This is because Shanghai is considered China’s industrial and economic hub and is considered the mainland’s most densely populated area.

"Tourists there have more disposable income, which is the kind of tourists that the CNMI wants," said Robert H. Jones, co-chairman of the Saipan Economic Development Council.

January 5, 2005

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