SHANGHAI-SAIPAN CHARTER FLIGHTS TO END

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By Agnes E. Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Aug 17) – Tourist arrivals from China are expected to drop, as Century Tours and Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino suspend charter flights from Shanghai toward the end of this month.

Century Tours general manager Ronald Chan said the two companies reached the decision after China Eastern asked for a new charter fee hike.

The service operates four times weekly and represents 261 airline seats per flight. The charter flight was launched January 2004 and became regular in July 2004.

China Eastern is expected to make the last charter flight from Shanghai to Saipan on Friday, Aug. 24, 2007. Century Tours and Tinian Dynasty have asked for two additional flights for Aug. 28 and 29, but they have yet to receive a response from the airline.

In an interview, Chan said that China Eastern raised its charter fee by 10 percent in June 2007. Recently, the airline issued notice for another hike-this time, by 20 percent.

"We simply cannot afford it. We have no choice but to suspend the flight," he said.

Chan expressed regret about the suspension, saying the service was enjoying a high load factor. "It's almost full most of the time. Saipan is a popular destination in China, especially Shanghai and Beijing," he said.

Nevertheless, Chan said he was confident the service could resume as early as October 2007. He said Tinian Dynasty and Century Tours were contacting other airlines that might be interested in flying the route at a lower charter fee.

In related news, Air China is expected to begin twice weekly flights from Beijing next month. The service will depart Beijing every Thursday and Sunday. It will be operated using Boeing 777 aircraft, with seating for 319 passengers.

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