The Commonwealth Ports Authority board of directors has no authority to approve any airlines’ request to fly to Saipan, according to the CPA board’s airport operations committee chair Barrie C. Toves.
When asked for an update on China Eastern Airlines’ reported interest to fly to Saipan, Toves said any request from the airlines actually does not need any action from the CPA board.
“It does not need any approval from the board,” Toves said in an interview after the CPA board’s meeting last Thursday.
He said what the CPA board does is to make sure that the CPA management has these airlines complete all the requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Last February, the House of Representatives unanimously supported a resolution by Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero (R-Saipan) that urges CPA to approve the request of China Eastern Airlines.
Citing the pullout of U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines from the CNMI, Guerrero said the tourism industry as well as the overall economy would take a toll if nothing is done about it.
Guerrero said China Eastern Airlines is one of China’s major air transportation groups out of three and is headquartered in Shanghai.
Toves said he has heard of Chinese Eastern Airlines’ request and that he also read about the House’s resolution.
Toves said, however, he has not seen any documents submitted to the board from Chinese Eastern Airlines and that he does not understand why the Legislature has to urge the CPA to approve anything. Toves said the Legislature tried this a couple of years ago when they passed a similar resolution because of airlines that want to come in.
He said he introduced a resolution to the board to limit the number of airlines coming in, but subject to the review and approval of the DOT.
Toves said DOT responded, telling then that the CNMI government or CPA does not have authority as it is preempted by a federal law.
He said it’s only DOT that can approve or deny any airline that wants to land in U.S. airports.
“We own the airport but we don’t have the authority. We are hoping that all of these things be clear,” Toves said.
In any case, if Chinese Eastern Airlines is interested to fly to the CNMI, Toves said he has not seen their proposal.
“We don’t necessarily come to a point of making any discussion. Any airlines going to come in and is willing to operate, we welcome them,” he said.
The thing is, he added, the CPA board does not need to approve that, as the board does not need have that authority.
“There is a protocol, procedure for it to happen,” said Toves, adding that any airport has to be cleared by DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Toves cited an example a possible lawsuit that an airline was going to file against CPA in federal court, but the case was eventually dropped because DOT’s secretary in essence has the authority.
He said if the airport comes to a point where it is really congested and it poses any hazard and safety concern because of overcrowding and it is justified, then CPA can make that request to DOT to deny a new airline.