Delta Air Lines is bidding adieu to Micronesia, with the Atlanta-based carrier ending its service to Saipan and Palau effective May 6 this year. Delta currently flies out of Narita, Japan to Saipan and Palau.
In a statement, Hiroko Okada from the corporate communications department of Delta Air Lines attributed this decision to “unsustainable pressure,” including lower demand, in the Micronesia market.
Okada said that Delta is committed to the Japan market and continues to focus on strengthening the airline’s network to U.S. gateways and beyond.
The pullout comes a month after Delta discontinued its service between Narita and Guam.
The Office of the Governor, Marianas Visitors Authority, and travel agencies on Saipan were informed Tuesday by Delta headquarters in Atlanta about the planned pullout.
In a separate statement, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said he is genuinely disappointed by this decision.
“I remain committed to the Japan market and the historical and cultural ties between the Marianas and Japan. We will be meeting with Delta Air Lines next week to reiterate our partnership, but we will keep our options regarding the route,” he said.
Torres said the CNMI is “very grateful” to Delta for its 29 years of service to the CNMI and its partnership over the decades.
“It is our collective goal to remain on top of the shifting markets here in the Pacific that includes making sure that visitors from Japan can continue to visit our islands, and our people continue to have viable air transportation through the Narita route, which is a historical one for many of our friends and families,” he added.
Last November, Torres and MVA managing director Chris Concepcion met with Delta Japan executives in Tokyo, Japan and were assured that the Narita-Saipan route will be maintained.
However, this current decision was made by the Delta headquarters in Atlanta as part of its U.S. mainland route expansion.
Concepcion said that Delta’s pullout from Micronesia is “indeed unfortunate” news.
“We are saddened because Delta and its predecessor, Northwest Airlines, have been serving the CNMI for 29 years…We understand that this is purely a business decision made by Delta headquarters in Atlanta as they’ve decided to take the B757 used on the Saipan-Narita route back to the U.S. mainland where they will utilize it on other routes within their wider network,” he said.
“The MVA and Delta have been working closely the past few years to make this route profitable and we managed to make it so the past couple years. But, after all is said and done, we recognize that the Japan market itself is shrinking dramatically in our region and worldwide,” Concepcion added.
The shrinking Japanese market that travels to the Pacific and Micronesia was prevalent and the service flights cuts were inevitably foreseen.
Concepcion said that MVA saw it with Delta’s pullout in Guam, United Airlines’ nearly 50-percent reduction in flights between Japan and Guam, and now with Delta’s flight suspension for Saipan and Palau.
Fortunately for the CNMI there are already a number of airlines that have expressed an interest in taking over the route, Concepcion said.
“The MVA is aggressively working toward a launch soon…We are also hopeful for a brighter future with the shift in market dynamics happening today. The [low-cost carrier] revolution is spreading like wildfire around the world, and going forward we foresee this trend picking up quickly in the Marianas and Micronesia, given that Japan is essentially a short-haul, three-hour flight from the CNMI,” he said.
“We extend our gratitude to Delta for their service to the CNMI. We know that if there is opportunity for them to return in the future, they will do so, since our ties remain strong,” he added.
Concepcion calls on MVA partners such as the Commonwealth Ports Authority, Commonwealth Development Authority, and other agencies to work on ensuring that flights remain profitable to operate in the CNMI.
“The MVA cannot do this alone. It is critical that we work together going forward,” he said.