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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 1) – Japan Airlines wants to fly back to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands - not to the capital island of Saipan but to nearby Tinian island.

Commonwealth Ports Authority officials disclosed yesterday that a team from Japan Airlines visited Tinian last week to inspect airport facilities.

"They [JAL] are planning to fly to Tinian," said Tinian port manager Ike Perez during yesterday's board meeting.

He said, though, that no specific timeline was mentioned.

"They're interested but we don't know when. They're still doing research," said Perez.

CPA executive director Lee Cabrera said JAL's visit is "exploratory."

"Our Tinian director met with JAL and showed them the airport. They are looking at the airport facility," said Cabrera.

JAL terminated its 28-year flight service to Saipan last October, resulting in a sudden plunge in the number of tourist arrivals in the CNMI. Statistics showed a nearly 30-percent decline in tourist arrivals from the Japan market last month. JAL used to bring in 150,000 tourists a year.

Cabrera said the Tinian International Airport still lacks the necessary facilities to receive international flights. For instance, he said the ground-handling system remains a problem.

Among others, he said the airport lacks a stairway to disembark passengers.

Meantime, CPA board members expressed confidence that JAL would seriously consider Tinian, citing that it is even flying to Majuro, Marshall Islands, and Palau.

Just shortly after it shocked the CNMI with its pullout last year, a JAL team had visited Majuro for planned charter flights to the atolls.

JAL's entry to Majuro was regarded as a major development to finally jump-start its nearly non-existent tourist industry.

JAL reportedly wanted to bring about 200 tourists a week to Majuro.

March 1, 2006

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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