‘We cannot operate in limbo’


The recent termination of Marianas Southern Airways’ sole-source contract with the CNMI government may result in a loss of jobs as its partner airline, Southern Airways, informs MSA employees that it cannot continue its partnership with MSA indefinitely under these circumstances.

This week, Southern Airways chair and CEO Stan Little wrote MSA employees to update them about the current situation between the airline and the government and the possible outcome if the CNMI government ultimately chooses not to honor its contract with MSA or come to some kind of resolution.

According to Little, although MSA continues to provide interisland air service right now, if the CNMI government is adamant about its decision to terminate its contract with the airline, MSA cannot continue to operate under these conditions indefinitely.

“Right now, we continue to fly, and we continue to serve the people of the CNMI and Guam. They are our customers and they are our primary concern on a daily basis. We cannot, however, operate indefinitely with the government refusing to honor its contract,” said Little.

MSA has confirmed the authenticity of the letter but states it cannot speak for Southern Airways.

“Southern is a partner of MSA and a company separate from MSA. I cannot speak on behalf of Southern,” said MSA president Keith Stewart.

Ultimately, any business decision to continue the CNMI airline will be made by MSA, but it was created in partnership with the U.S.-based Southern Airways and, because of the uncertainty of the situation, Southern Airways says it may be forced to suspend services in the Marianas at some point.

In his letter to employees, Little said: “While I cannot promise you how this will end, I can promise you this: You are Southern Airways team members, and we have always taken care of our own. We did not terminate, lay-off, furlough, or early-retire any of our team members even during the darkest days of COVID. If the governor continues refusing to engage and we are forced to suspend service at some point, every one of you will receive a job offer of some kind, somewhere. For those of you who don’t wish to transfer or work remotely, we will offer you a severance package that allows you time to get back on your feet. For those of you who transferred to the CNMI specifically to work for us, we will help you get back to where you came from or to another Southern station,” said Little.

“I hope we don’t have to face that eventuality. I hope the governor will pick up the phone. I hope the Commonwealth will honor its obligations. But at this point, all I can do is hope,” Little added.

Little shared in his letter that Southern Airways was just as blindsided as everyone else involved with the recent contract termination and it has tried to reach out to the CNMI administration to work something out. Unfortunately, Little said, he has yet to get a response.

“With all the opportunities that Southern Airways has for flying here on the [North American] continent, the last thing we wanted or needed was to be embroiled in political controversy in the far Pacific. Nevertheless, the new administration has chosen to politicize our presence there, seemingly in an attempt to vilify their election opponents. I have sent the governor a lengthy letter, explaining our position and our desire to find a path forward. As of yet, we have received no reply. In fact, we began the process of trying to speak to the new administration in early January just after the inauguration, but they would not even return our phone calls or agree to a meeting,” he said.

“Us in leadership were just as blindsided as you probably were by the new governor’s actions toward us,” Little added.

Many Saipan-based employees, who have requested not to be identified, have expressed an unwillingness to be uprooted from the islands, to be assigned to other Southern Airways posts.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores 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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