The Marianas Visitors Authority, which spearheads efforts to lure back tourists to the CNMI, is pinning its hopes on the Commonwealth Ports Authority and its Francisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport as the CNMI prepares to welcome a bevy of new direct flights through the end of the year.
MVA managing director Christopher Concepcion said he trusts the Commonwealth Ports Authority is working on its problems—non-working runway lights and malfunctioning air-conditioners and baggage turnstiles—so that passengers of the new flights as well as passengers of existing flights will have a pleasant experience upon entering and exiting the CNMI.
“Honestly, those are things that our colleagues at the CPA are working on, I am concerned about the lack of space everywhere, the check-in counter, to the Customs and Border Protection area, [and more]. I don’t know if it’s adequate enough to continue to accept new airlines,” said Concepcion.
Interim executive director Chris Tenorio said in an exclusive with Saipan Tribune that CPA is doing everything in its power to accommodate the rising number of tourist arrivals.
“Right now, we are having so many airlines coming in and we are trying to accommodate everybody coming in. Yes, we have the facilities and we can still accommodate them. We are actually working on expanding the airport in the near future, but for now we are just trying to accommodate these new airlines that are coming in,” said Tenorio.
“We are still actually waiting for our master plans to be completed, which would be sometime next year. Once we have that, we will start working on the expansion projects,” he added, explaining that the expansion would not specifically be starting next year.
A jet bridge, also known as a jet way, is a movable connector that extends from the airport terminal gate to the aircraft, allowing passengers to board. Currently one jet way is inoperable and two require special attention, making only five jet ways out of six operable, according to Tenorio.
“Right now our Aircraft Operations Area guys are working on the airlines, assisting them with the jet ways. We have jet ways that we are planning to replace, but it’s not going to be possible this year. We are still actually going to be getting information. We are working on it right now, trying to get all the documents needed for it,” said Tenorio.
Leaking in the gate of the airport has long been an issue, one that has already been addressed by CPA, though not completely.
“Just this week, some areas have already been addressed. We are now working on the other areas, so the leaks are already at a minimum. We addressed the major leaks,” said Tenorio.
One airline official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity told Saipan Tribune that they are disappointed with the airport and, although the airport is operational, it is not ideal.
“We are trying to do our very best. Yes, we have issues here at the airport. We are addressing these issues, but this is not an overnight thing. I want the airlines to come and meet with us to discuss what other concerns they have, because we are open to any comments and suggestions,” said Tenorio in response.
Tenorio understands that the tourists’ first point of contact with Saipan is the airport, saying that CPA will improve as the days go by.
“Lately we’ve been having improvements. We’ve had the airports painted and are trying to accommodate everything. Yes, we are having issues with the air-con now, and we are in the process of awarding the company to replace some of the units. We just want to make travelling passengers comfortable, because the airport is the first impression of Saipan, so when they see the airport I want them to feel welcome,” he said.
Concepcion remains unfazed about the issue, saying they would still be inviting tourists to the CNMI.
“We are going to continue inviting airlines into the CNMI, especially Japan, which is a big focus of ours because of the big drop of numbers. Our goal is to get additional flights from Japan, in addition to everything that is already flying here,” he said.
“These are the three new airlines in the next three months. We are very excited about it and we are working actively in Korea, China, and Hong Kong to promote these new flights and help fill those flights up to build more tourist arrivals here in the CNMI,” he added.
T’Way Airlines and Eastar Jet are Korea-based airlines that are offering daily regular scheduled flights from Seoul, Korea, to Saipan, with the latter starting today.
T’way Airlines is expected to start on Dec. 23.
HK Express is a Hong Kong-based, low-cost airline expected to fly three times a week, from Hong Kong to Saipan starting early 2017.