Negotiations between the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration for a private contract arrangement of Saipan tower operation looks bright, according to CPA Executive Director Carlos H. Salas.
FAA has approved Saipan as one of the sites under its jurisdiction to participate in the Federal Control Tower program which would save the cash-strapped ports authority some $600,000 a year or eight percent of the $9 million airport expense in operations.
But instead of hiring another company, Salas has proposed to FAA that it enter into a sole source agreement with the CNMI so that it can still be the contract vehicle to provide the air tower control services. He noted that a similar arrangement has already been made at South Lake Tahoe, California with a weather contract.
Salas made the proposal in a move to save the employment of the nine traffic air control employees since not all of them would be hired by the private company that would be contracted by FAA.
The Saipan tower was commissioned using local Saipan residents as controllers who underwent rigorous training until they were certified in the Western-Pacific region in early February 1995.
Salas said the fact that locals are performing the air tower control duties generated a great deal of pride on the island as FAA evaluators have given the facility high marks since its commissioning.
In looking after the interests of the employees, Salas told FAA that the controllers are entitled to a government retirement plan and as such, it is expected that the contractor would offer the existing employees positions with their company.
This would make an easy transition of Saipan to a Federal Control Tower but if the employees chose to, the ports authority would offer another position in CPA where they could retain their retirement benefits.
However, if most of the controllers would choose to remain with the port because there is no guarantee that they would retain their retirement benefits, then the ports authority would lose the training and experience of the local controllers.