Communter airlines that have been pushed to gate 11 at Guam International Airport claim the 120-mile flight from Saipan just got 150 yards further and 40 minutes longer.

The decision to open Gate 11 will allow Continental Micronesia to keep its larger aircraft at Gate 8 without interruption from commuter planes arriving from the Northern Mariana Islands which often interfere with its arrivals and departures.

Pacific Island Aviation and Freedom Air said the airport told them its passengers will have to go through the same time-consuming process as international passengers.
Continental said passengers won’t have to go through additional security checks.

The Guam International Airport Authority said it’s the Transport Safety Administration and immigration authorities that decide on arrival requirements and in the end they will put commuters through security checks.

Effective June 28 commuters will now have to depart and arrive at Gate 11 which until now was a seldomly used gate. Pre-9/11 original airport usage plans called it a limousine and tour bus gate.

Under the signatory airline agreements gate assignments to airlines are based on a formula related to a percentage of revenue. Signatory airlines at the airport are Continental Northwest Airlines Korean Airlines All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. Non-signatory airlines the airport told the Journal are assigned gates not allocated to signatory airlines under the agreements.

Gate 8 had hosted airlines’ arrivals from Saipan Tinian and Rota. Passengers were met with one occasionally two immigration officials and proceeded after clearance directly to the airport’s baggage claim area and customs without entering the secure or sterile sector of the airport.

Continental requested the gate move but following meetings between the airport PIA and Freedom Air the airport authority postponed action.

Walter B. Dias vice president for sales and marketing for Continental Micronesia told the Journal it had requested the gate change and had the right to do so. “Under the signature agreements we have preferential gate treatment. We have been at Gate 8 — for years — because it has direct access to Customs & Quarantine.”

Dias said the airport authority had reversed its stance. “That’s where we have an issue because on May 18 we had a verbal agreement. The other day — June 16 — we received a letter saying please be advised the move has been postponed.”

He said contact with the airport authority after Continental received the June 16 letter had not been fruitful. “We’re attempting to have a meeting but we’re unable to get anyone to meet with us.”

Continental’s flight CO 1 arrives in the afternoon from Honolulu at Gate 8 following a PIA flight from Saipan via Rota. Dias said “From time to time the flight would get in later than their schedule.” Because PIA’s flight contained passengers who were not screened in Rota the passengers of the two flights were not allowed to enter Guam at the same time.

Dias said “Flight 1 was sitting out on the tarmac and we would end up going to Gate 9.” He said Continental would then have to move the plane late at night from Gate 9 to Gate 8 so that the aircraft could leave from Gate 8 the next morning for CO 961 to Tokyo. “It’s been forcing us to spend extra money to move the aircraft to Gate 8. If the flight was on time there would be no problem but for the last six months it has been running late from time to time.”

Pacific Island Aviation and Freedom Air said the gate change is unnecessary and creates a slew of new problems.
“ It’s not in the interests of the commuter airlines or their passengers ” James Stowell director of safety of Pacific Island Aviation told the Journal.

The Guam International Airport did previously agree to move Pacific Island Aviation and Freedom Air to Gate 11 as of June 21 leaving Gate 8 to Continental Micronesia’s existing flights. Cape Air which will operate the Continental Connection service between Rota and Guam as of July 1 was also due to use Gate 11.

However protests to the airport authority by PIA and Freedom Air combined with a recent letter-writing campaign by PIA and a meetings on June 15 and 17 were in vain.

Stowell said PIA and Freedom Air were informed abruptly of the proposed move by the airline authority “Although six to nine months ago there were whispers. In my opinion there’s not an overall benefit.”

A number of factors make the move to Gate 11 a bad idea and the airport authority’s claim that the move is for security reasons is inaccurate Stowell said. “There’s been no dictate from TSA [the Transport Security Administration]. TSA has not been pushing to screen passengers and their luggage. You have to ask who’s partied up with who? Other airlines have been supportive of our desire to maintain the status quo. Northwest likes us very much where we are. It positively affects their ability to connect passengers.”

Dias said the arrangement for commuter passengers coming in through Gate 11 was supposed to be the same as at Gate 8. Continental passengers arriving at Gate 11 would not have to be screened and would proceed to the baggage hall. “If TSA would do it for us they would do it for everyone. Initially PIA was happy about it.”

Also at issue is the distance at Gate 11 from the tarmac to the building.

PIA and Freedom air said passengers would have to deal with an open-air walk of 150 yards the possible discomfort of rain the danger of slipping and the challenge of stairs for the elderly the infirm and passengers with children.

However that argument is thrawarted by the fact that there are escalators and elevators to and from the Gate 11 area.
Stowell said exit and transit time would be lengthened. “It will take about 30 minutes to be screened and about 20 minutes inside whereas now the whole process takes between 10 and 15 minutes.

“We worked with the airport to devise the system currently in place. The system has worked; it’s safe; it’s approved by the TSA and accepted by customs. It’s appreciated by customs. Even if we make improvements [at Gate 11] it’s still less attractive to us and our passengers. Because we don’t screen we have less expenses.”

Cape Air will have uo to nine passengers arriving on commuter flights as of July 1 and Cape Air said Stowell will introduce larger planes. Stowell said that further congested the situation. He said his message to Continental was “You go out to Gate 11 with your new arrival. If you guys love this concept so much you go to Gate 11.”

Dias said the walk at Gate 11 was less than 150 yards if you deducted the distance passengers were already required to walk at Gate 8. “We asked for Gate 11 for our commuter operations because there is a lot more space. The walk is longer but you are going to have to walk at some point.”

Dias said Continental had not had problems sharing Gate 8 with commuter airlines. “We don’t mind if they use Gate 8 but they should then run an on-time airline.

The airport authority represented by Edith C. Pangilinan met on June 17 with Joaquin C. Flores Jr. general manager of Freedom Air Richard C. Brown director of operations for Freedom Air and Stowell of PIA. Sylvia Krafton manager passenger service for Continental Micronesia represented Cape Air an affiliated commuter.

Security screening the open air walk from the plane and the route into the building were discussed.

Pangelinan said transport and immigration authorities had given input. “We are a federalized airport. For the longest time the operators were allowed to bring in passengers that were not screened. It is a requirement that once passengers enter the airport they have to be screened.” She said the airport would accommodate the PIA and Freedom Air requests for canopy cover for its passengers and consult on stairway and elevator issues whether the airlines moved to Gate 11 or Gate 10. “In the U.S. airlines are not given that sort of accommodation but we are trying to help our tenants. They need us to do business and we need their business. We are working at accommodating them long-term.”

Frank F. Blas chairman of the board of the airport authority said “There have been several meetings to discuss the move. It has to do with several issues. The board is leaving it to management at this juncture.”

Brown said “Our issues are that Gate 11 is a bus gate. If they want us to use it they should get buses. The walk is significantly long and potentially arduous for passengers.” He said the airport had offered a canopy without side cover. “How often does it rain vertically?” He said the airport had originally planned on moving the airlines to Gate 4. “That’s a long way to walk in the terminal.”

Brown said the move would involve additional expense. “If we are at Gate 10 or 11 we will have to have some kind of stairway or escalator built up on top of what’s there now.” He said the airline would not accept a change without accommodation for its passengers first. “We are not ready to move on a promise that things will be done in three months time.”

Freedom Air will accept the gate change if it has to Brown said. “Our position is if the airport says to move we will go along with it. We don’t want to be directly at odds with them but we do want to have some input.” He said Freedom Air was still against the gate change but would continue discussions with the airport authority. “We have worked well with them over the years but we want to make sure we do not get shunted off like a stepchild.”

Gate 8 offered commuter passengers “reverse screening ” Brown said. “Passengers are normally screened on the land side. In this case they are screened as they get off the plane.”

A move would raise additional security issues Brown said.

“A lot of the problems come with the original design of the airport. When the airport was being designed Kin Flores asked ‘What about the planes that can’t use the jetway? What about their incoming passengers?’ Even at that time before 9/11 it was an issue of immigration and customs. If he had been allowed to give input it might have been resolved.”

Brown said the TSA was not willing or able to screen CNMI passengers at the level it did in Guam. “There’s a physical plant that would allow them to do this at Tinian and Rota but never anything at the terminal in Saipan.”

The alternative security issue he said was that incoming Northern Marianas passengers would mingle with travelers arriving and departing Guam if the gate changed widening the possibility for security breaches.

“This happens for all carriers not just those coming in from the CNMI.” Brown said he understood authorities were at present “on the lookout” for one or two passengers. Airlines were fined about $3 000 for passengers with entry problems. “It happens now and then.” Brown said the proposed gate change presented a “no-win situation for immigration or for the carrier for that matter.” MBJ