Senator says there are medical referral patients who are stranded on Saipan
With Star Marianas Air’s continued suspension of interisland flights, Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) strongly recommends that the CNMI government pursue other airlines to meet the demand for essential interisland air transportation.
Santos told Saipan Tribune over the weekend that she supports Commonwealth Ports Authority board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds’ position about the need for the CNMI to avail of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community and Rural Air Service program as the long-term solution to CPA’s and Star Marianas Air’s dispute over new rates methodology for interisland travel.
Santos said DOT’s Small Community and Rural Air Service program helps small communities address air service and airfare issues and can involve revenue guarantees, financial assistance for marketing programs, startup costs, and studies.
King-Hinds wrote SMA president Shaun Christian last Friday and presented the CPA board’s proposed solution to the new rates methodology.
In the interim, with the goal of immediately resuming interisland air connectivity, King-Hinds said that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has committed to fully subsidize all fees and charges that CPA will assess SMA for the remainder of fiscal year 2022, provided that SMA agrees to reduce the cost of travel to Tinian and Rota.
The CPA chair said Torres is committed to finding a way to permanently lower the cost of interisland travels.
Christian had replied that subsidizing fees is not the solution because the airline is capable of managing its own business affairs. He also expressed doubts over CPA’s sincerity in resolving the current and any future disputes in good faith.
He, however, wrote King-Hinds yesterday, offering solutions to resolve CPA’s and SMA’s longstanding dispute and achieve a more harmonious relationship , in order that both parties devote full attention to serving the best interests of the traveling public.
Santos said SMA provides the sole air transportation service to and from Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, a service that is critically needed, especially for interisland medical referral patients and medical emergencies.
The senator said the distance between the islands, in particular from Rota to Saipan, is quite a distance for patients to be transported via boats, thus they rely on SMA for essential air transportation service.
Santos is hoping that SMA will receive the CPA’s proposal in the spirit it is extended.
The senator said Christian’s letter yesterday is promising and that she is hoping for a breakthrough to end this impasse between CPA and SMA to essential air passengers service between the islands can be restored at the earliest.
“We still have referral patients who are stranded on Saipan awaiting the resumption of SMA flights,” she said. Santos added that they have residents who are returning home for the holidays, and reopening interisland flights is mentally and emotionally uplifting for the people to be united with families, relatives, and friends during the holidays.
SMA indefinitely suspended its interisland flights starting last Dec. 1. It claims that CPA’s new method in assessing rental rates has made the company’s cost to provide air services not financially feasible and forced them to stop flying.