Star Marianas Airlines Inc. said it will resume interisland air service under the condition that the Commonwealth Ports Authority suspends its imposition of fees until the end of the fiscal year or until their current dispute is resolved.
In response to CPA’s latest appeal to accept a temporary resolution in the dispute and resume interisland air service in the CNMI, Star Marianas president Shaun Christian said he agrees that belaboring differences in opinion is not productive and only causes hardship to the traveling public.
As a sign of good faith, Christian said, SMA is willing to compromise and resume interisland service if CPA and the CNMI administration agree to suspend the imposition of fees.
CPA chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds said in a brief statement yesterday that CPA can’t do that, though.
In Christian’s letter to CPA, he said: “In view of the hardship that the temporary suspension of service causes on the interisland traveling public, and [CPA] and the governor’s offer to suspend imposition of fees until the dispute can be resolved, SMA will also extend a token of good faith toward the resolution of the current impasse by resuming interisland flight service and submit its intention to resume scheduled flights to Tinian and Rota on an expedited basis to the Department of Transportation, with the CPA’s concurrence that the resumption of scheduled flight service, on an expedited basis, is needed to relieve the burden on interisland travel,” he said.
In addition to suspending airport usage fees, Star Marianas also wants CPA to agree to a meeting within 60 days of coming to an agreement to try to resolve some of their major issues; and for both parties to mutually sponsor a request with the [Federal Aviation Administration] to answer questions regarding fees and the rules CPA must follow in assessing them. Then, and only then, will Star Marianas take the necessary steps to resume interisland travel, he said.
“This resumption of service will be with the express understanding that: A. Fees and charges under the new methodology will be suspended until agreement is reached between the CPA and SMA or Sept. 30, 2022, whichever is sooner; B. During this moratorium period, the parties will meet within 60 days of acceptance of this agreement by the CPA to discuss and resolve the major disputes that have been highlighted by both sides in recent filings with the DOT; C. In attempting to achieve any mutually satisfactory solution by CPA and SMA during their negotiations, the parties will mutually sponsor a request to the FAA to answer core questions that form the basis of the CPA/SMA dispute including (1) the fees that can be assessed to SMA under a Compensatory rate methodology and (2) the conformity of the CNMI Regulations under which the compensatory fees are imposed by the CPA, based on the type of aircraft that SMA utilizes to provide flight services to the public,” he said.
Christian said he hopes the compromise will bring forth a resolution to CPA and Star Marianas’ longstanding disputes.
“It is hoped that based on these offers of good faith we can resolve the longstanding disputes and achieve a more harmonious working relationship, in order that we may both devote our full attention to serving the best interests of the CNMI traveling public. As soon as we receive your concurrence with the terms contained in this letter, we will commence the necessary steps to establishing air service,” Christian said.
When sought for comments, King-Hinds said that if CPA could suspend fees, they would’ve done so already but, unfortunately, they can’t and the only plausible temporary solution is to accept the subsidy the CNMI government has offered Star Marianas Air.
“We can’t suspend rates just for one airline. We have to treat everyone the same so that we don’t run afoul of our grant assurance requirements. That’s why we sought the help of the governor and we were fortunate that he understood the complexities of the situation and gave his support. His offer was to fully subsidize whatever fees that SMA would be incurring for the remainder of fiscal year 2022 as CPA and SMA work through the dispute provided that SMA lowers ticket fares. They’ve rejected that offer. The latest request asks that CPA suspend our new rates. We cannot do that just for SMA. We would have to do that for everyone which we can’t,” she said.