In taking off or landing outside of the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport, the pilot has the final authority on the operation, according to Air Traffic Control Tower manager Jerald Mendiola, who affirmed that the Saipan Tower does not authorize nor approve any takeoff and landing outside of the Saipan airport.
This was in response to a question by Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) regarding the landing of Saipan Helicopters in the XO Market parking lot on Middle Road. Saipan Helicopters is owned by Vertical Aviation Saipan, which also owns XO Market.
Hours before Super Typhoon Hagibis hit Saipan last Oct. 7, a red chopper operated by Saipan Helicopters landed in that parking lot. The low-flying chopper is used for aerial tours of Saipan.
When Saipan Tribune reached out, aircraft owner Sophie Xu said that the helicopter landed in front of the XO Market so it could be put in the warehouse next to the supermarket to avoid any damage that the super typhoon might bring.
Santos said that, while that October incident was a shocking sight, she “was even more alarmed to learn that the chopper regularly lands in this parking lot without the existence of a designated helipad or other markings.”
“I speak for many in the community when I say that Saipan Helicopters poses a great hazard to our people whenever it occupies a space meant for foot traffic and land-based vehicles,” she added.
Santos chairs the Senate Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications.
“Saipan Tower does not authorize or approve any takeoff/landing outside of the Saipan airport movement area. It is up to the pilot in command to conduct safely those types of operations,” Mendiola said in his response to Santos’ inquiry. “Saipan Tower will only advise the pilot that their operation will be at their own risk. The pilot in command has final authority on the operation he conducts so any further inquiries should be directed to the airline itself.”
After the October incident, it was reported that a Federal Aviation Administration inspector was in the process of reviewing and investigating the matter.
The senator is seeking answers as to what could be done to mitigate the danger of such landings, and is awaiting a response regarding the status of the investigation being performed by the FAA, Department of Public Safety, and the Commonwealth Ports Authority.
The same helicopter was the subject of several complaints by community members after photos of it hovering close to the road going down from Suicide Cliff appeared on social media last weekend.