ASIANA CUTS SEOUL TO SAIPAN FLIGHTS

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Airline will increase flights between Japan and Marianas

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 1, 2009)—Asiana Airlines will temporarily stop today its daily flights between Seoul and Saipan through the end of June, but the carrier vowed to increase flights from Japan, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said in an interview.

Asiana is now negotiating with the Japanese government to fly daily between Osaka and Saipan, he added.

He said international carriers can only negotiate with the Japanese government if it involves flight service slots.

Japan Airlines, which used to fly 14 flights a week on the Saipan route, reportedly has 21 CNMI slots from the Narita International Airport alone.

Asiana currently flies only four times a week between Osaka and Saipan and there are plans to increase it to seven times a week or daily.

"Asiana has four flights a week [to Japan]. Now, they are working with the government of Japan on this issue. Only the government of Japan can change the standing policy of allowing foreign carriers to fly not more than four times a week in the country so they [Asiana executives] will work to convince Japan to fly daily from Osaka. That’s good news," the governor told the Variety.

The governor flew to Seoul last March 13 and held talks with the executives of Kumho Asiana, the parent company of Asiana Airlines.

Senate President Pete P. Reyes, Marianas Visitors Authority Chairman Jerry Tan and Finance Secretary Eloy Inos accompanied him in the trip which was prompted by Asiana’s daytime flight suspension.

The carrier will maintain its nighttime flights.

"We were very concerned about Asiana’s announcement that they are suspending the daily daytime flight from Seoul to Saipan. But that will only happen from April 1 to June. That will only happen for that period because it’s a slow season," the governor said.

He added that the airline told them it upgraded its aircraft for the Osaka route as passenger demand picks up.

"At the same time, they have already upgraded the equipment from Osaka, the Osaka started with 757 now they are using the airbus," he said.

The Boeing 757 can only accommodate between 186 to 279 passengers. An airbus can carry more than twice that load.

Asiana launched its Osaka-Saipan thrice-weekly flight service in late 2008 with a small aircraft under a new code-sharing agreement with All-Nippon Airways.

The South Korean private airline envisions marketing Saipan as a paradise-resort among its biggest clienteles in the region with the completion of its golf-hotel community project at the Laolao Bay Golf Resort.

The airline disclosed it lost $10 million on the Saipan route last year but it’s staying on despite that in hopes of a trend reversal in the future.

Asiana is the only international carrier from South Korea serving the Saipan route.

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