SHANGHAI AIRLINES DEBUTS AT SAIPAN AIRPORT

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Maiden flight brings 200 visitors from China

By Stefan Sebastian

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 30, 2008) - The first flight of Shanghai Airlines’ new Shanghai-to-Saipan service arrived at the Saipan International Airport in the predawn darkness Monday morning, a debut that comes ahead of several airline deals that tourism officials hope will draw more foreign visitors to the CNMI.

After Shanghai Airlines’ nearly full 222-seat Boeing 767 touched down, officials with the Marianas Visitors Authority and the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino greeted the arriving passengers and crew. A leading MVA official has said that the flights could draw millions of tourism dollars to the CNMI. The flights come after the suspension of chartered airline service from Shanghai to Saipan last year.

"We welcome the reinstatement of flights from Shanghai," said Perry Tenorio, the MVA’s managing director. "Also, we welcome this new carrier to Saipan."

Direct airline service along the Shanghai-to-Saipan route could lend a significant boost to the Tinian Dynasty, which caters to many Chinese visitors to the CNMI, and other local hotels.

Moreover, the CNMI’s tourism sector stands to see some gains in the near future through other flight deals, such as a potential Russia to Saipan charter service arrangement through the Khabarovsk-based air carrier Dalavia and Asiana Airlines’ soon to commence service from Osaka, Japan to Saipan. Asiana’s new flights are due to begin in October, Tenorio noted.

"We’re expecting charters through the end of the year," he said.

According to an MVA statement, the new flights will reach Saipan twice weekly, departing from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport at 7:45 p.m. every Monday and Friday and arriving on Saipan at 2:15 a.m. every Tuesday and Saturday. Return flights are scheduled every Tuesday and Saturday at 3:15 a.m. from Saipan to Shanghai.

However, MVA is eying one possible obstacle to the expansion of airline services to the CNMI from key Asian tourism markets; the pending federal takeover of local immigration rules and the establishment of a joint Guam-CNMI visa waiver program, which will admit foreigners from pre-approved nations into the United States without the need for a visa.

"That continues to be a concern until we know [The Department of Homeland Security] has made its final decisions on which countries will be included in the program." Tenorio said, noting that local authorities are vying to see Russia and China take part in it.

DHS’ decision on the visa waiver program, he added, will likely guide the MVA’s marketing efforts in the future.

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