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Sunday, April 20, 2014

‘Air Papaya’ eyes role as NMI carrier

The owner of at least six hotels in Guam and the CNMI will be launching next year a new airline called “Air Papaya” that they hope will become a CNMI carrier, with initial flights to and from Saipan, Guam, and major cities in China and Japan, officials said.

Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) and JMSH LLC vice president Jae Ong separately confirmed yesterday the planned launching of Air Papaya, which they said will bring over 260,000 passengers to the tourism-based CNMI economy.

“This new airline will be home-based here on Saipan a few months from now,” Ayuyu said in an interview at his office.

Hee Kyun Cho, president of JMSH LLC, and Ong, along with Ayuyu, met with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial on Wednesday to further discuss the airline.

Fitial and JMSH LLC had planned a news briefing this weekend, but this has been moved to a later date.

JMSH LLC owns Alupang Beach Tower, Tumon Horizon Condominiums, Mai’ana Airport Plaza Hotel, Holiday Resort Guam and the Garden Villa in Guam, as well as Rota Resort and Country Club on Rota. In September, JMSH LLC unveiled a planned $170 million casino and hotel on Rota.

Ayuyu, chairman of the Rota Legislative Delegation, said JMSH plans expansion of the airline service to Rota.

“Everything is in the works. The aircraft is being painted right now. It will have three Airbus 300 series, which can carry 179 passengers each. They wanted to fly as early as January,” Ayuyu said. As of yesterday, there was no telling whether the launching will be that early.

Ayuyu said the problem right now is that in the CNMI, “we don’t have the number of rooms available; that is our major obstacle with the airline. Where do we put those passengers?”

“Mr. Ong and others are working with hotels as to how we can resolve the issue of room shortage,” said Ayuyu, the incoming Senate floor leader. “The new airline proposal will benefit the CNMI economically in terms of more tourists coming in. It will support other businesses, not only the hotels.”

Ong and Ayuyu said more details about Air Papaya will be disseminated in December.

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