Just days before its deadline to vacate all airport premises on three islands, Freedom Air has yet to pay or make any payment plan with the Commonwealth Ports Authority on the $1.23 million it owes the agency.
In an Aug. 19 “final and irrevocable” notice of termination, CPA gave Freedom Air only until Thursday, Sept. 19, to vacate airport premises if it fails to make full payment on its long overdue obligation.
Saipan Tribune learned that CPA executive director MaryAnn Lizama met with Freedom Air executives several times in recent weeks but no final settlement was reached. Lizama flew to an off-island conference last Friday and has yet to issue a statement on the matter.
CPA board chair Jose Lifoifoi confirmed yesterday that the board will meet tomorrow, Sept. 18, with Freedom Air as its sole agenda.
When asked whether or not the board will reconsider its decision on Freedom Air, Lifoifoi said he has no idea, adding that the special meeting was called at the request of board members.
The Rota Legislative Delegation earlier appealed to the CPA board to reconsider its termination notice against Freedom Air. Signed by delegation chair Rep. Teresita Santos, the Rota lawmakers sought for an extension on the deadline for the local carrier.
“The leaders of Rota stand united in requesting the board’s consideration of Freedom Air’s termination notice and respectfully recommend additional time be given to Freedom Air to settle its outstanding account and arrears,” according to the delegation in its August letter to CPA.
They said that despite the CNMI’s ailing economy and delayed government payments, Freedom Air continues to assist the people of Rota who desperately need interisland medical referral transportation and provides cargo shipments of medical specimens and supplies that is vital for the health and welfare of its people.
“Freedom Air remains compassionate and understanding to our local culture as they continue to donate and provide charitable services to worthy causes and to various organizations and schools,” according to the delegation.
A check with some CPA board members yesterday showed that they will be attending Wednesday meeting.
Saipan Tribune learned that the Rota lawmakers, along with Freedom Air executives, have reiterated their appeal to the board.
When asked if some of these lawmakers have personally approached them, board members interviewed yesterday all responded in the negative.
Prior to the CPA board’s decision in August, the agency gave Freedom Air several chances to rectify its long overdue accounts. In fact, several notices of default, termination and promissory notes were issued to the company since 2011.
CPA, in its “final” notice, indicated that failure to vacate its premises may lead to legal action against the company.
If Freedom Air wishes to continue operations on CPA premises in the future, CPA expects Freedom Air “to fully satisfy its outstanding obligations today.”
Calls made by Saipan Tribune to Freedom Air general manager Dennis Cruz were not replied to as of press time yesterday. Company owner Joaquin Flores also has yet to issue a statement.
Saipan Tribune learned that Freedom Air has three lease agreements with CPA, including one for the Rota airport premises, one for the former PIA hangar, and another for the general area at CPA. The company is delinquent on these lease agreements by $15,378 and $3,024 respectively.
Freedom Air is delinquent for aviation charges amounting to $554,268 as of Aug. 14.
Passenger facility charges collected by the airline from passengers have also been wrongfully withheld and not remitted to CPA: Saipan ($273,500); Rota ($148,392); and Tinian ($202,275).
Freedom Air has been servicing the islands for more than 30 years.