‘The people should not suffer in dispute between CPA, Star Marianas’

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The Commonwealth Ports Authority has appealed to Star Marianas Airlines Inc., again, in an attempt to temporarily resolve the current dispute and resume interisland air service, stating that the true victims of the dispute are the residents of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

In a letter from CPA chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds to Star Marianas, she urged Star Marianas to accept the CNMI government’s previous offer to subsidize the airline’s fee, for now, as a temporary measure so that interisland flights can resume.

“We must find a way to at the very least temporarily resolve the issues regarding the [fiscal year] 2022 rates so that interisland air service may resume. SMA’s decision to halt its operations has a substantial negative impact on our local traveling public. In an effort to lessen the impact of the dispute on the traveling public, the CNMI governor committed to fully subsidize all fees and charges assessed to SMA from CPA for the remainder of [fiscal year] 2022, provided that SMA agrees to reduce the cost of travel to the islands of Tinian and Rota,” she said.

King-Hinds said Star Marianas’ resistance in accepting the offer is causing residents of Tinian and Rota to suffer.

King-Hinds

“Instead of accepting a solution that would not burden CNMI residents who depend on interisland travel, SMA is resistant to give up its leverage on the basis that it is about the principle of the matter. SMA states that it does not want to saddle CNMI taxpayers by accepting the subsidy offered by the governor. Instead, SMA has decided to saddle CNMI taxpayers by ceasing operations. This inflicts a much larger burden on the CNMI—particularly those residents [on] Tinian and Rota. The people should not suffer because of a dispute between CPA and SMA, especially during these trying times in the CNMI when everyone should be working together,” she said.

The CPA chair claims that CPA is willing and ready to engage in meaningful mediation to resolve the dispute and to find a pathway of compromise for the benefit of everyone involved.

“SMA responded that the issue is not entirely about money, and money is not a solution to the overall problem. CPA agrees. The subsidy was never a solution to the overall problem, it was a temporary compromise with the end goal of amicably resolving the dispute through a series of consultations with SMA in the immediate future. It is a temporary solution to offer relief to the traveling public who will suffer the most as a result of SMA’s decision to stop operations,” King-Hinds said.

In response to Star Marianas’ doubts about the sincerity of CPA’s offer to conduct negotiations to resolve the dispute, CPA claims they have always been open to mediation.

“Setting aside the history of the dispute, CPA is open to mediation. This dispute between SMA and CPA has been protracted and litigious for the past nine years. At play here is one commuter airline and one port authority,” the CPA chair said.

According to a previous article on Saipan Tribune, King-Hinds assured the airline that, with the goal of immediately resuming inte-island air connectivity, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has given his commitment to fully subsidize all fees and charges CPA will assess SMA for the remainder of the fiscal year.

However, Star Marianas president Shaun Christian said subsidizing fees is not the solution because the airline is capable of managing its own business affairs. “If CPA is willing to engage in meaningful, structured discussions, then SMA is also willing to engage in such discussions and work toward restoring interisland air service,” he had said.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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