Pacific Rim’s Stewart eyes CNMI-based airline

Posted on Aug 06 2021

This artist sketch shows the proposed CNMI-based airline that Pacific Rim is planning to establish. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Pacific Rim, a family-owned full service construction and development company, is working on setting up a CNMI-based airline that would target not just travelers from Japan and Korea but also Australia and the Philippines.

According to Pacific Rim president Keith J. Stewart, he sees great potential for the CNMI to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic a stronger and more diversified community and that includes setting up an airline, to be called Marianas Pacific Airline.

Following this mission, Stewart has brought on board a team of from Australia with more than 240 years of combined airline experience to run through the numbers and create a plan for an airline that would be based and serve the CNMI.

“Initially, the plan was for a freight aircraft,” Stewart said. “However, when we and the aviation experts on our team looked at the numbers and the global environment, it became clear that there was a market to expand service to build out full passenger and freight service for the CNMI.”

“So we spent close to a year doing the research and putting together the plans for Marianas Pacific Airlines to provide stability, and affordability on air service to the Commonwealth that would be operated by seasoned airline professions with a specific interest in supporting the needs of the CNMI.”

One of the key factors that makes this possible, according to Stewart, is the disruptions to the international travel market caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We see a great deal of opportunity here and Neil Hansford, chief executive officer for Marianas Pacific Airlines and a premier airline expert, has been working hard to establish the Australian market for the CNMI’ s tourism makeup,” said Stewart. “Australia has an incredible demand for destinations like the CNMI and represents a real opportunity to build a new market for the Commonwealth.”

“The figures work,” said Stewart. “We have the right team, a steadfast commitment to the Commonwealth, and a real interest in making this a reality, not just for the Australian route.”

According to Stewart, the plan is to provide air service between Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Australia, with expansion opportunities that would support additional routes in the future to include direct service to Hawaii.

Alternative industries

He said this effort to explore the development potential of the CNMI came during the onset of the global pandemic. “As soon as the international flights ceased, it was not hard to predict the wider impacts the loss of tourism would have on this community,” said Stewart. “Thankfully, the CNMI government took all the right steps to keep these islands safe through it all, but it certainly highlighted the need for greater resiliency in the economy.”

Shortly after, Stewart built a team to look into alternative industries that can emerge from the pandemic to support employment, economic growth, government revenue and our security.

For Stewart it was a personal commitment to the islands. “I made the decision to make Saipan my home nearly four years ago. I have seen such great potential in these islands. Over the last year, with the pandemic and the slump in the economy it caused, my company took a hard look around to see where the opportunities were to help these islands reach their potential,” said Stewart.

The team pursued a range of options and reached out to international investors and experts to cultivate the feasibility of various industries. “We brought on board a team to look at the various options for diversification from across the spectrum. We tried and pursued various ideas like manufacturing, tech and healthcare and kept coming across the same bottleneck,” Stewart said.

That bottleneck was transportation.

“We explored various types of manufacturing. Taking components of a supply chain and building a logistics network on Saipan to support a value-added component here. However, we quickly learned that it would be cheaper to transport the same quantity of goods from Florida to China than it would to transport it from Saipan,” Stewart said. “So to build the infrastructure for a more diversified set of industries, we had to look deeply into how we can bring greater investment into the transportation sector in the CNMI for both freight and passengers.”

Investing in NMI’s first international airline

For Stewart, the development of a CNMI-based airline is one component of a larger effort for the CNMI economy. “There is a lot of work and investment that needs to be made to improve interisland traffic options, port improvements and general infrastructure upgrades, but this is a wonderful community, and I am proud to call it home, so I am willing to do my part to see it prosper.”

Over $1B in completed projects to date

Stewart has started up and completed a wide variety of construction, development and program management projects across the United States that exceed $1 billion. His experience includes the Dusit Thani Hotel in Guam, Isa Villas Housing (Phase I and II) on Saipan, Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel in California, Mamizu Utilities and Site Improvements Phase 1 in Guam, Ironwood Housing (Phase I and II) in Guam, and Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino in California, among others throughout the United States, Caribbean, Guam and the CNMI. (PR)

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