SF-based airline combines with investors planning Rota casino


A San Francisco-based airline is merging with a group of Korean investors that is planning to put up a casino on Rota, according to Commonwealth Ports Authority board’s Airport Facilities Committee chair Barrie C. Toves yesterday.

Toves disclosed that IH Group Corp. has tied up with Boutique Air and that the airline is going to be called IH Boutique Air. He said IH Group took over Rota Hotel and Sunset Villa Hotel.

Rota Treasure Island Hotel & Casino was the first casino that opened on Rota, but did not last long.

A source said the main financier of the first casino was a Japanese investor named Watanabe Masahiro.

The source said the local owner of Rota Treasure Island Corp. has also forged partnership with IH Group.

The CPA board briefly discussed Boutique Air’s plan during a recent meeting.

Toves said in a recent interview that the merger’s intention is to assist with the transportation needs of the IH Group’s customers of the hotel/casino and, at the same time, provide interisland airline service between Saipan, Rota, and Guam.

He said CPA executive director Christopher S. Tenorio just reported to the Airport Facilities Committee that he had “word” with Senate President Victor Hocog, (R-Rota) who is the main contact, that put CPA in communication with the Boutique Air out of San Francisco.

Toves said that he sent CPA board director Tomas Villagomez to meet with Boutique Air on his behalf, last year, as he couldn’t make the trip.

Toves said Tenorio and board director Pete P. Reyes spoke with Hocog, who informed them of some sort of delays with the airline project.

Toves said the project is not on hold per se, but because of the current situation with the COVID-19, he believes the chief executive officer representative from Boutique Air has been stuck in South Korea.

He said the CEO representative should be coming to Saipan to look at the facilities and establish whatever needs to be started up for the operation.

“Rota has already prepared. One of the airline counters there, they are ready to receive once they come in,” Toves said.

He said they were expecting the airline’s planes to actually be in the CNMI since last month.

“We’re expecting also that they’re going to start having mobilization and movement this month in the first week but because of the issues…what can we do?” Toves said.

He said they were anticipating Boutique Air to start operation out of the CPA’s facility with Skydive temporarily because they gave them a lease on old Freedom Air’s space so they could start getting their maintenance hangar.

Asked if Boutique Air will also provide services on Tinian, Toves said they haven’t discussed that yet. “But when we were pushing for the airline incentive program. My mission…is to cushion the impact of Cape Air pulling out,” he said.

Right now, Star Marianas is the only service provider for Rota.

“We’re feeling the impact now. Go online and you see there’s no seats available for the next three days,” he said. “So if you want to travel, you have to make arrangements ahead of time, probably two weeks to be on the safe side.”

Toves said having IH Boutique Air as an additional airline operator would give people another choice. “It is very difficult, especially when we have regular medical referral patients that are going interisland for medical services,” he said.

Toves said they’re working hard to try to assist Boutique Air in whatever way that they can. “We have the facilities ready for them. It’s just a matter of them coming in and starting the operation,” he said.

Toves said that Boutique Air will be building a new maintenance hangar with the property that they just leased.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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