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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 18) – The Rota International Airport in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has been federalized since Monday and this allows the Transportation Security Administration to take over the screening of passengers and cargoes.

Rota hosts direct commercial international airline service to Guam and Japan, making civil aviation security a serious concern there.

"The threat to civil aviation on Rota is no less than anywhere on the U.S. mainland. Commercial service from Rota connects with mainstream airports and provides the Transportation Security Administration with another opportunity to do all we can to provide for the security of passengers," said Rhonda Vickery, Transportation Security Administration federal security director on Saipan, who also oversees security and screening operations on Rota, the second largest island in the commonwealth.

U.S. transportation security officers will be assigned to Rota’s airport to ensure that federal standards are met at the security checkpoint there.

Transportation Security Administration will also be responsible for the oversight of the security plan of Rota’s airport as well as making sure that each airline meets the agency’s security standards.

Viola Sablan, Transportation Security Administration customer support/liaison manager, said it took them 18 months to prepare for the federalization of Rota’s airport.

"We’ve worked diligently and finally federalized the airport after a year and a half," she said.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial led the ceremony during the change of command at the Rota airport.

Commonwealth Ports Authority officials, some lawmakers and U.S. Attorney Lenny Rapadas were also present at the ceremony.

In his brief speech, the governor expressed hope that Tinian’s airport, too, will be federalized.

The island is being groomed to become the Western Pacific’s mini-casino Mecca.

"When it comes to aviation and security matters, I believe the entire Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is better off with Transportation Security Administration involvement and support. I’m glad the Rota International Airport will have the support of Transportation Security Administration and I look forward to federal security oversight at our Tinian airport as well," the governor said.

May 18, 2006

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