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PAL eyes Manila-Saipan direct flights

New route opens up source market, direct medical referral trips, economic devt
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Philippine Airlines is looking at reviving its Manila-Saipan route by operating a new direct service between the Philippine capital and the CNMI capital starting December this year through its subsidiary PAL Express network.

The new route by the Philippine flag carrier could open up a new source market for the CNMI, lead to cheaper flights, and serve medically referred patients.

Philippine Flight Network—a leading source of airline and aviation news in the Philippines—came out with a story last Sunday reporting that PAL is considering offering two weekly flights to serve the Filipino community in the Commonwealth.

Philippines Airlines used to service the Manila-Saipan route in the early 1990s.

This offers a more convenient access for the Filipino community and is a prospective market for PAL especially for those wanting to travel to Manila directly and then connecting to other destinations in Philippine Airlines’ domestic network or even its international network.

PAL Express intends to operate the flights using its fleet of two 156-seat Airbus A320 aircraft making Saipan the only international destination in the PAL Express network.

Great for Filipino community

Glicerio “Eli” Arago, Philippines’ Honorary Consul to the Commonwealth, said direct flights from Saipan to Manila would benefit the Filipino community in the CNMI.

“As honorary consul it is a good thing and that anything that benefits the community is good and if it pulls through it would be great to again have direct flights from Saipan to Manila. For the Filipino community it would be easier access to our home country,” Arago said.

Continental Airlines used to offer direct flight between the Philippine capital and Saipan.

Saipan Tribune learned that Century Travel Agency Inc. was approached by PAL Express network to try and look at the feasibility of opening the Manila-Saipan route.

Tan Holdings corporate consultant David “Uncle Dave” M. Sablan said it started out as an initial fact-finding trip from two representatives—one from PAL Express network and the other from Guam Philippine Airlines.

Sablan confirmed that they were approached by Philippine Airlines and were told that there will be flights for twice a week and that PAL is looking at launching the flights in December of this year.

He said that Century Travel is the only traveling agency who can ticket Philippine Airlines and have been ticketing PAL for many years.

“We had this agreement for many years that people can purchase tickets for PAL through us and it’s a long-time agreement,” he said.

Another market?

Sablan said that with PAL Express network, it would be a great development for the CNMI.

“There will be other possibilities and there will be economic development for Saipan as a result as the anticipated arrival of PAL and we’ll have more people coming in. It would be a big plus for all of us. There are several good ideas to improve traffic from Saipan to the Philippines because the Marianas Visitors Authority should seriously consider promoting Saipan in the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia so they have flights that would come in to Saipan,” he added.

MVA managing director Perry Tenorio said that they have met with PAL officials already and provided statistics on source countries.

When asked about PAL providing flights between Saipan and Manila he said that “it is definitely our consideration of course and we welcome new carriers and we will have to look at their target markets and possibly other Asian countries” in regards to tourism and marketing.

“When they do their internal due diligence then we will go from there but we haven’t discussed yet as to [the Philippines] being a source market but we will see if it comes through,” Tenorio said.

Medical referral

Sablan said that projection for outbound passengers will be good because Century Travel had been communicating with government agencies, particularly on medical referral, to try to get PAL for medically referred patients to directly travel to the Philippines.

Residents of the CNMI have to travel to Guam first before connecting to direct flights between Guam and Manila. Philippine Airlines and United Airlines are the only two carriers providing direct flights between Manila and Guam.

Medical Referral Services director Ronald D. Sablan said that they’ve already been approached by Century Travel about the possibility of PAL opening a Manila-Saipan service.

He said PAL Express launching a Manila-Saipan route is a plus for local patients because any direct flights to Manila from Saipan is needed.

Medicaid Referral Services data provided by Ronald Sablan earlier showed that for fiscal year 2014 a total of 684 patients were medically referred off-island: 349 were medically referred to Guam; 52 to Hawaii; 260 to the Philippines; 21 to San Diego, California; and two to Portland, Oregon.

A total of $1.1 million was spent by the Medicaid Referral Services on airfare in fiscal year 2014.

“There are a lot of times we charter flights for emergencies to Guam to fly to Manila, we are not aware of Philippine Airlines price structure but I am open to any discussions that would benefit medical referral,” Ronald Sablan said.

Jayson Camacho | Reporter
Jayson Camacho covers community events, tourism, and general news coverages. Contact him at jayson_camacho@saipantribune.com.

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