Kilili assures he is working on CNMI eligibility for EAS
In a letter to the Commonwealth Ports Authority to support its efforts to obtain supplemental funding, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) assured he is working on putting the CNMI on the list of territories and small communities that are eligible for the U.S Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program.
In a letter to CPA executive director Christopher Tenorio, Sablan stated that he fully supports CPA’s recent request to DOT for $30 million in supplemental funding to keep the CNMI’s airports in operation until fiscal year 2026.
“I write to extend my full support of your efforts to seek federal assistance to help the [CPA] maintain airport operations, reduce airport costs, and attract new air carriers to the Marianas. I recognize that recent super typhoons that devastated the Marianas, shortly followed by a global pandemic, have gutted revenues across all Marianas ports. These same compounding disasters have likewise crippled tourism, our sole economic industry, making a speedy recovery even more unlikely,” he said. “Marianas airports have clearly been harmed by the severe downturn in air service resulting in a precipitous decline in revenues. Thus I support CPA’s efforts to seek the necessary financial assistance to maintain operations and keep our airports functioning optimally for the traveling public.”
To show his support for CPA, Sablan said he is currently working on putting the CNMI on the list of small communities eligible for the DOT’s EAS program.
“To also help ensure that lasting reliable and affordable commercial air service, particularly for Rota and Tinian, is always available to residents and visitors of the Marianas, I am seeking to have the Marianas regain eligibility in the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program,” he said.
The CNMI was once eligible for the program, but reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration program back in 2012 resulted in the CNMI losing its eligibility.
“Marianas communities were originally eligible for EAS but were not using the EAS subsidies when programs of the [FAA] were reauthorized in 2012, and therefore lost eligibility, along with over 600 other locations across the country,” he said.
However, Sablan assured CPA that he is working with his colleagues in the U.S Congress to amend the he EAS program to include the CNMI.
“As Congress develops an FAA reauthorization bill for 2024, I am working to amend the EAS program to make the Marianas eligible once again so that our communities will always have at least a minimal level of scheduled air service. If successful, this change will not automatically take place, but it will ensure that EAS assistance is available if ever needed,” he said.
Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang shared his support for Sablan’s endeavors.
“I agree that long-term solutions are necessary to ensure the continued provision of affordable and reliable interisland air transportation. I support the CNMI’s inclusion in USDOT’s Essential Air Services program. I appreciate the opportunity to work with CPA to ensure the continued provision of essential air services to, from, and within the CNMI,” Apatang said.
According to Saipan Tribune archives, CPA previously pursued the EAS program in their efforts to obtain additional funding before the end of the fiscal year, but was found unqualified.
“CPA does not qualify for the EAS program because it is not an ‘eligible place.’ To be considered an ‘eligible place,’ the community must have received essential air service between Sept. 30, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2011. The CNMI did not receive essential air service between those two dates,” said CPA.
In addition, CPA explained that for the CNMI to be eligible to participate in the EAS program, the U.S. Congress would need to amend 49 U.S. Code section 41731 and include the CNMI as an accepted location.
“CPA has discussed EAS and its challenges with multiple CNMI officials, including Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP). It is CPA’s understanding that there is currently no appetite in [the] U.S. Congress to expand the EAS program,” said CPA.
According to online sources, EAS is a federal program enacted to guarantee that small communities in the United States maintain commercial air service. The program’s goal is to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service to small communities that otherwise would not be profitable.