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‘We’re heading for disaster’

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Feb. 5, 2009) - "We’re heading for a disaster."

Thus said Senate President Pete Reyes as he informed his colleagues during the joint session yesterday about Northwest Airlines’ decision to reduce its flights to Saipan.

Reyes, R-Saipan, said Northwest is also planning to use smaller aircraft for its remaining flights to the island, thus reducing the number of passenger seats.

Variety e-mailed Northwest Airlines Guam-Saipan manager Richard Parsons on Tuesday, but had not received a reply as of press time last night.

"While we’re confronted with a financial crisis, there seems to be an indication that we are also heading for a disaster," Reyes said.

He said he wasn’t sure if Northwest’s decision had something to do with the coming federalization of local immigration.

He said he has arranged a meeting with the Marianas Visitors Authority so that "we can see where we stand on this."

In a statement yesterday, MVA said Northwest will "downgauge its daytime flights from Narita from an A330 (298 seats) to a B757 (182 seats)" starting on March 29.

In May, Northwest will cancel its nighttime flights from both Osaka and Narita.

According to MVA, "Based on a 75 percent load factor and with an estimated US$827 in direct and US$2,709 in indirect economic impact per Japanese visitor, the CNMI will lose 26.8 percent of its total air seats by Northwest and US$51,341,514 and US$168,118,515 in direct and indirect economic opportunity, respectively, by the end of fiscal year 2009."

MVA said the loss of the Northwest Osaka-Saipan flights means 20 percent fewer air seats from Japan. "That’s a tremendous loss from our major tourism market," said MVA Managing Director Perry Tenorio.

He said MVA "is meeting with its travel partners to look at ways to replace the loss of seats."

The CNMI’s second largest market of Korea, he added, "has also seen continued softness over the last several months due to the economic downturn in the Korea and the weakened Korea won."

"These changes are going to decimate the CNMI economy if seats can’t be recovered," said Tenorio. "The CNMI will become a ghost town."

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