Chinese Airlines Sues CNMI Port Authority Over 60-Day New Flight Moratorium

Hotel Association supports ban except in case of Beijing Capital Airlines which already had approval

By Bryan Manabat 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 22, 2017) – A Chinese airline that is supposed to begin its flight service to Saipan on June 29 has sued the Commonwealth Ports Authority in federal court for implementing a 60-day moratorium on all new flights which include those of Beijing Capital Airlines Co. Ltd.

The Torres administration said the governor has received a copy of the lawsuit which is now under review.

The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, in a separate statement, said it supports the 60-day ban on flights that were not already approved, but in the case of Beijing Airlines, HANMI said it has already been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide flight service to the island.

HANMI said it does not support a ban against Beijing Capital Airlines as it will have an adverse impact on the local tourism industry.

[PIR editor's note: On June 22, 2017 Saipan Tribune reported that 'The decision by the Commonwealth Ports Authority to temporarily suspend the entry of new international flights to the CNMI could result in a loss of $600,000 for the Commonwealth, forcing the Hotel Association of the Marianas Islands yesterday to withdraw its support of the CPA resolution. ... The $600,00 represents potential income from hotel rooms and meals reserved by Beijing Air customers.']

In an email to Variety, HANMI president Gloria Cavanagh said Beijing Capital Airlines’ flight service was not only approved, “but is scheduled to begin on the 29th of this month.”

She added, “What does this mean for the HANMI hotels? With full flights of 300 (this is just an example because the number is like 289-292) twice a week, this is around 1,050 room reservations a week that have already been booked. I believe that this mainly involves three hotels. There will be adverse consequences because of this. We do not support the cancellation already scheduled flights.”

In a statement, CPA said it has been “informed of the civil action and [temporary restraining order] petition by Beijing Capital Airlines. Because the matter is under litigation we will respond to the filing in due course and in court. However, CPA maintains that the temporary suspension for 60 days is based on the CNMI government’s concerns through a letter from Gov. Ralph Torres. We look forward to reopening the CPA airport to new and incoming airlines after the lifting of the moratorium.”

The lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against CPA and Christopher Tenorio in his official capacity as the executive director of CPA.

Represented by lawyer Daniel T. Guidotti, the airline said it filed a foreign air carrier application with the USDOT in 2016 and it was granted on Jan. 17, 2017.

USDOT allowed the airline to transport passengers from Hangzhou China into Saipan.

The airline said it is fully compliant with the provisions of the USDOT permit, adding that CPA has also granted the airline two weekly flight times from Hangzhou, China.

The airline is supposed to start its flight service on June 29 and has been promoting it, selling more 2,000 tickets already and reserving the same number of hotel rooms.

According to the airline, it is asking the court for a declaration that the 60-day ban regarding new international flight service into the CNMI is void and unenforceable because it is preempted entirely by federal law, and because it deprives Beijing Capital Air of a protected property interest without procedural due process.

Also on Wednesday, District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona recused herself from hearing the lawsuit.

In her order of self-recusal, the judge said because of an unwaivable conflict pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 455(b)(5)(i) and Canon 3(C)(1)(d)(i) of the Code of Conduct for the United States Judge, she must disqualify herself from the proceedings.

The self-recusal order did not specify what the unwaivable conflict was.

According to the judge, the case has been reassigned to District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood.

Marianas Variety
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