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By Jude O. Marfil

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 31) - Governor Juan N. Babauta boarded a Northwest plane and headed to Tokyo yesterday afternoon to urge Japan Airlines not to suspend its flights to Saipan.

Babauta left at 5 p.m., a day after his appointment with JAL chief executive officer Toshiyuki Shinmachi was confirmed.

Marianas Visitors Authority officials took JAL’s 3:50 p.m. flight to Tokyo.

During his meeting with Shinmachi, Babauta is expected to point out the "decades…of successful partnership that has been mutually beneficial."

JAL started flying to Saipan on October 1, 1977.

Last February, Babauta and MVA officials also met with JAL officials to urge the airline to use bigger aircraft for its Saipan flight service.

JAL continues to use smaller aircraft for its Saipan flights, which it now plans to suspend beginning in October.

"It is with extreme disappointment that I have learned that your company is considering ending that partnership and curtailing flights to Saipan," Babauta said in his letter asking for an appointment with Shinmachi.

Besides Shinmachi, Babauta is also scheduled to meet with Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation Kazuo Kitagawa.

Even though JAL is now privately owned, Babauta said he is "hopeful" that the Japanese government "may have some ability to influence the situation and preserve service on the effected routes."

"Because of the chilling effect the uncertainty of continued flights service has on advance bookings and on investment decisions now being made by tourism businesses…it is imperative that I consult with you," Babauta told Shinmachi.

Meanwhile, thousands have signed the petition asking JAL to reconsider its plan to withdraw from Saipan.

"JAL is extremely important to all of us living and working in the CNMI. We therefore ask you that you consider the impact of your decision," the petition reads.

"As the majority of the CNMI’s tourist (arrivals) are comprised of Japanese citizens, without JAL’s assistance with the direct flights from Japan, the CNMI would be far behind other tourist destinations," the petition added.

According to a Japanese business executive, it is unlikely that JAL would change its mind.

"Saipan is just a small island. JAL is no longer making money here," said the business executive, who declined to be identified.

JAL’s decision to pull out from the CNMI is part of its "contingency measures to increase revenue by (US$439 million)."

One of these measures includes concentrating on high-profit and high-growth routes.

June 1, 2005

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