Says nighttime flights are currently full
U.S. Customs and Border Protection stands by its decision to deny XTRAirways landing rights at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport because the schedule of nighttime flights arriving from China is currently full.
The agency just doesn’t have the manpower to accommodate another nighttime flight at the Saipan airport, according to CBP director for NMI Robert Havens.
“We are denying them to fly the night schedule from 12 midnight to 6am because we just do not have enough resources to properly process that flight in a timely fashion. We prefer for them not to fly in at night because it would create more problems in the end rather than fix anything,” he said.
According to Havens, there are currently nine airlines that fly in within the midnight to 6am schedule. The nine carriers are Jeju Air, Jin Air, HK Express, HK Airlines, Beijing Capital, T’Way, Eastar, China Eastern, and Philippine Airlines.
XTRAirways plans to have three flights a week from China, with 4am and 5am arrival times.
“The CBP doesn’t want to ever say no to a plane, to a route, and we want the airlines to look at different options before they proceed,” Havens said.
The night schedule from midnight to 6am is notorious for long immigration lines that last three to four hours and the Commonwealth Ports Authority, CBP, and Marianas Visitors Authority have been working to decongest the lines.
CBP did give XTRAirways three options so they could start operations. The first was for XTRAirways to have an afternoon flight; second, approval from Commonwealth Ports Authority; and third, enrolment in the CBPO Reimbursible Services Program.
Havens said the afternoon flights from 12pm to 6pm has a huge opening, the CBP has plenty of available officers and staff for those hours, and there are not a lot of flights jostling for those slots.
“CPA can give them approval. If CPA approves an airline—even though I know we can’t fit that airline in but CBP does not want to hurt any business—if CPA thinks they can handle the airline, we say yes,” Haven said.
He added “CPA is, however, careful too of the practice because when the passengers are over there and are waiting three to four hours to come into the room, they sometimes get out of control.
“CPA now has to send a police officer or two to monitor the line. It requires extra staffing and effort on both CPA and CBP. All those water dispensers in the line area, CPA brought that in to aid in the passengers’ comfort. But there is only so much you can do when you bring in more people than there are available processing officers.”
Havens said CPA also negotiates aggressively to move the flights. In the case of Beijing Capital Airlines, CPA and CBP both negotiated with Beijing Capital.
“We finally allowed Beijing Air to have one flight in the morning and one flight in the afternoon. CPA was key to all those negotiations. CPA has its own requirements for the airport and the airlines have to fly within their parameters and at the same time within CBP parameters.”
“Every negotiations we have, we conduct with CPA. But if CPA approves XTRAirways, we would consider approving them at night,” he added.
According to Havens, the CBP Reimbursible Services Program enables partnerships between CBP and the private sector or government entities that allow CBP to provide additional inspections.
“It doesn’t mean that an airline can fly and push right in the middle of the normal shift because even if I were to fully staff all the booths and another airline enrolled in the RSP comes in, it doesn’t matter because we cannot work that airline because there are no more booths.”
He added, “So RSP allows the airline to come at the beginning, earlier than most of the other flights are or at the end of all other flights and so we push our flight on overtime so it arrives at 7pm and so the last hour of the flight will be processed on overtime.”
“It takes that little window that we have and increases the window length for the airlines because we are able to bring in an officer for additional times. If they apply for the timeslot, we approve them. If they don’t pay, they get into trouble,” Havens said.
According to Havens the options were given to XTRAirways and that CBP was clear that they cannot fly within the 12am-6am schedule right now.
“We are very consistent with every single airline with the way we treat them. If we don’t have a slot available, we won’t approve that airline for that slot. CBP does not want to deny any airline that would come and bring in new flight service to the CNMI. We are doing our best to negotiate the best time for new and upcoming flights,” Havens said.
“We feel bad, we know that XTRAirways is an American carrier but there is nothing we can do. It will be irresponsible for me to approve them at this time,” Havens added.