The inaugural flight of Air Busan to Saipan took place last Sunday and marks what is hoped to be the start of a long and successful relationship between the CNMI and the airline.
Air Busan, a budget carrier unit of Asiana Airlines Inc., began its first of six scheduled charter flights. According to South Korean media, Air Busan currently only offers flights on two international routes: from the southern port city of Busan to Qingdao in China, and from Busan to Saipan.
It was learned that the airline previously provided a Busan-Guam flight but has dropped Guam after establishing a charter with Saipan pursuant to the travel bubble arrangement the CNMI has with South Korea.
In a short statement from Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Priscilla Iakopo, she said this first flight is a great opportunity for the CNMI to gain a Busan market. For years, a large chunk of the CNMI’s South Korean market has come from Incheon.
“The decision to jumpstart the Busan market, a major source city in Korea, is a great opportunity for the Marianas. Bringing in Air Busan will also give us an opportunity to introduce this new airline to our destination and convince them that the Marianas would be more desirable for travelers compared to other beach resort destinations they now serve,” she said.
Commonwealth Ports Authority chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds said that, although Air Busan is currently servicing the CNMI on a charter basis, the hope is that a demand for a Busan-Saipan route is established so that Air Busan will continue with regular scheduled flights.
“Tourism is our primary economic engine. While Air Busan is only a charter, we hope that there is enough interest in the CNMI to support scheduled flights. Tourism is the CNMI’s bread and butter. I am grateful for all the effort that so many people are putting into finding a way to get our tourism industry back to normal. I especially want to congratulate all those involved to make the Air Busan charter flights possible,” King-Hinds said.
During a board meeting last week, majority of the Marianas Visitors Authority board voted in favor of subsidizing six Air Busan charter flights starting Jan. 23 in partnership with Micronesia Resort Inc.
Micronesia Resort Inc. operates the Kensington Hotel Saipan, Pacific Islands Club Saipan, and Coral Ocean Resort Saipan.
The next Air Busan flight is expected on Jan. 30. There will also be four Air Busan charters flying into the CNMI on Feb. 6, 13, 20, and 27 under this agreement.
Based on the proposal presented to the board, Air Busan passengers will receive incentives such as travel bucks that will go directly to the passenger.
In addition, MVA will also provide a $10,000 subsidy per flight that will go to directly to MRI who is essentially spearheading the charter.