XTRAirways flights to NMI at risk

Posted on Aug 23 2017

“Unless we get a chance to get this reversed, the program is in jeopardy and that would be a real shame,” said XTRAirways Pacific operations manager Thomas Nolte at the Commonwealth Ports Authority board meeting yesterday. (Bea Cabrera)

XTRAirways’ plan to launch China-Saipan flights on Sept. 20 could be scuttled after U.S. Customs and Border Protection withdrew the airline’s landing rights.

The Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation earlier approved the Florida-based carrier’s application to fly to the CNMI. It now appears that the landing right earlier reserved for XTRAirways has been given to Beijing Capital Airlines.

“To our surprise, they say we don’t have landing rights here even though we have proof that CBP gave XTRAirways permission and approval as of early June. According to CBP Director for NMI Robert Havens, that slot has been given as of late June to Beijing Capital Airlines,” said XTRAirways Pacific Operations manager Thomas Nolte.

“The problem at the moment is, unless we get a chance to get this reversed, the program is in jeopardy and that would be a real shame,” he added.

Speaking to the Commonwealth Ports Authority board yesterday, Nolte explained the challenges that XTRAirways have to go through less than a month before its maiden flight to the CNMI.

“We are kind of at a loss where to go. But we are looking for ideas on how we could go around this issue because it is a difficult one. USDOT has nothing to do with it. We have an attorney in Washington to assist there on our behalf for DOT and FAA. We have been told that the proper channel for this is here because it is considered a local issue, as far as coordinating with CBP,” Nolte said.

Nolte said that XTRAirways has already spent millions of dollars for this program and he confirmed the carrier’s serious cash commitment in the China-CNMI route.

“We have hired people already—CNMI residents. We have people who are now on board that are undergoing training and are scheduled to leave for Miami soon…to complete their training with an actual live aircraft,” he said.

In fact, Nolte said, XTRAirways has as much as $3 million worth of equipment under 24-hour guard at the airport in preparation for the flight and maintenance of its aircraft.

“We have an aircraft we have set aside and have been modified for this China-Saipan service to suit the climate out here. So many things have been done. So we think it is an important and beneficial thing for the CNMI and I say that with all sincerity,” Nolte added.

XTRAirways plans to have three flights a week from China, with 4am and 5am arrival times.

CPA board member Kimberly King-Hinds asked Nolte if XTRAirways is aware that there have been issues about congestion and long lines at the arrival area, given the number of flights that land between 12am and 8am and if they can consider another time slot to land on Saipan.

Nolte said they submitted their time slots on June 1, 2017 to Havens and it was approved.

“Changing our time slot is not viable at this point. Our times are already set in China. Unless you are a very large Chinese carrier, you’re not going to be given daytime slots. That’s the reality of it. So for us to go back and try to convince China [about] this kind of domino effect that has been going on here is going to string us out,” he said.

Nolte added that if they try to change the time slots, processing may take months and possibly strain the program and the cash reserves.

Recently, Dynamic International Airways withdrew its Saipan flights and has filed for bankruptcy protection; it had its final Saipan flight last Aug. 19.

Aside from talking to CNMI lawmakers and CPA, Nolte considered that the slot Dynamic International Airways is leaving behind could be given to them as a solution, but they are not fully banking on the idea.

“We are following it very closely because even CBP NMI director Havens is saying if they go into liquidation then we can give you a spot, but the case is currently being heard in court in North Carolina. We have to wait for the court decision and unless Dynamic expressly say ‘we are withdrawing service on Saipan’ then we cannot do anything,” he added.

CPA board member Barrie Toves assured XTRAirways that they are going to follow through on the information Nolte shared, discuss with management, and see what CPA can do.

“We are counting on CPA to be our best avenue at this point. It’s good to get the word out so everybody is aware because it has a direct impact on the CNMI’s employment and economy,” Nolte said.


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