Saipan Air Inc. has cancelled its much-awaited July 1 inaugural flight and its launch has been indefinitely postponed until further notice.
“Due to circumstances entirely beyond its control, Saipan Air was regretfully compelled to indefinitely postpone its scheduled air service operations to Japan and China. This decision follows months of preparation and millions of dollars in investment,” said Saipan Air general counsel Steven P. Pixley.
He disclosed that Swift Air, which was supposed to provide the planes for what was being billed as the CNMI's first flagship carrier, defaulted on its contract agreement with Saipan Air and the latter will take legal actions as a result. He did not elaborate.
Pixley described the issue as a developing situation and Saipan Air will provide further information as it becomes available.
The airline initially planned to provide daily flights to Narita, Japan and four times a week to Beijing, China. By Aug. 1, the airline had planned to offer daily flights to Osaka, Japan and thrice-a-week flights to Shenyang, China.
Saipan Air's postponement of its inaugural flight came as a surprise to many in the CNMI.
Press secretary Angel A. Demapan, for one, admitted that much of the details surrounding this development have yet to be communicated to the Fitial administration.
Nonetheless, he said: “The administration is deeply saddened that the long awaited and much anticipated launching of Saipan Air has come to a standstill.”
“The administration would certainly like to learn more of the details leading to this sudden decision. Saipan Air was to serve as a major opportunity to increase our visitor arrivals and to create job opportunities for our people,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio was saddened by the postponement, admitting also that he has no full knowledge about Saipan Air's decision as of last night.
“Obviously, we're very sad about this development. We were very excited to work along with Saipan Air and other carriers to increase capacity to our island. We're just hoping that whatever issues they may have, they may resolve it quickly so they can move forward with their plans to bring the needed capacity from Japan and China,” Tenorio said yesterday.
The new carrier was intended to gain back the Japanese traffic the islands lost after Japan Airlines pulled out from the islands in October 2005, taking with it 182,000 air seats annually. Japanese arrivals, which accounted for 71 percent of arrivals, immediately declined by 25 percent and have been shrinking since.
Saipan Tribune learned that Saipan Air's services were initially supposed to be operated as charters by Swift Air, reducing risk for Saipan Air as well as avoiding a lengthy U.S. process to secure an air operator's certificate.
Based on Swift Air website, it a private airline company that was created in 1986 with two planes offering passenger flights.