Airline carriers that bring Chinese travelers to the CNMI through Guam, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Incheon in South Korea continue to fly to the CNMI despite an outbreak scare of the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV that first arose in Wuhan, China. These airlines are United Airlines, Hong Kong Express, T’Way Airlines, Jeju Airlines, and Asiana Airlines.
Meanwhile, Sichuan Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and Beijing Capital Airlines that service direct flights to Saipan from China are suspended following an order from the Chinese government addressed to tour and travel agencies to stop ticket sales that removed the demand from these airlines.
At an emergency meeting yesterday by the Commonwealth Ports Authority board at the Aircraft and Fire Fighting classroom of the Airport Fire Station, board chair Kimberly King-Hinds and other ranking CPA officials had a closed-door teleconference with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C. to discuss the matter.
“The authority to suspend, cancel, or ban flights from any jurisdiction lies with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol,” King-Hinds said. “…CPA does not have the authority to suspend flights or intervene in border matters. …It is important to clarify that the governor himself does not have the authority to suspend or bar flights from anywhere. …Basically, border matters is a Homeland Security issue…and CBP is the federal agency tasked with securing our borders,” she added.
Since no announcement or directive has been released by any or both these federal agencies, CNMI borders remain open to flight flow and traffic.
Last Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Torres issued Executive Order 2020-01 that placed the CNMI under a state of significant emergency to establish response, quarantine, preventative and containment measures concerning the 2019-n COV in the CNMI.
King-Hinds clarified that even though the governor has issued the EO, CPA does not have the authority to go to the airlines and order a suspension of flights. What CPA can do, King-Hinds said, is to reach out to the airlines “to ask for their cooperation and collaboration…to ensure that we all work together to prevent the spread of the virus.”
According to King-Hinds, CPA is authorizing a letter that will be written to all airlines consistent with Executive Order 2020-01.
“This letter will ask the airlines or our industry partners for cooperation and collaboration in as far as helping the CNMI contain or prevent the spread the of the virus into the CNMI. That’s all we can do for now. …It is the position of the U.S. DHS and U.S. CBP that CPA’s action in requesting for the ‘cooperation and collaboration’ are the appropriate measure at this time…,” King-Hinds said.
In a separate statement yesterday, CPA reiterated its position that collaboration with airline carriers to suspend travel and flights into the CNMI is on a “voluntary basis.”
“By communicating with the [the Federal Aviation Administration] and U.S. [Department of Transportation], CPA will engage airline carriers to achieve the interest of ensuring the public’s health and safety without impeding airline operations. To do so, CPA must focus on the goal of public safety. It is our collective responsibility to approach the coronavirus issue informed vigilance and purpose,” the statement said.
“We appreciate the cooperation of our airlines and partners in the aviation industry in dealing with public health threat that is fluid, unpredictable, and serious in scope and impact. CPA will continue to keep the traveling public, our airline partners, stakeholders and our community informed and abreast of our efforts with the [Torres] administration and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. to work together to protect our community.”