p>CAPITOL HILL Saipan — Taga Air which has been granted certification by the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate chartered flights to Tinian from Saipan is hopeful that a pending application is granted. The application would now allow the company to sell tickets to passengers and fly them to Tinian. “We hope that U.S. D.O.T. approves it before the end of the year ” Tom Liu vice president Taga Air and general manager of the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino told the Journal. He said Taga Air is “preparing all necessary documents for submission by end of April.”

Taga Air was granted a Basic 135 air carrier certificate in March that allows it to fly chartered flights. The airline has since set sights on a commuter airline certificate which would allow it to regularly fly passengers to Tinian without having to go through chartered arrangements.

Taga Air has partnered with Saipan Travel to book chartered flights to Tinian.

Liu said that the arrangement will hold while the airline waits for the U.S. D.O.T. to grant a commuter airline certificate. “Once the commuter airline certificate is approved by U.S. D.O.T. then the chartered flight agreement will end and Taga Air will be able to sell tickets to individual travelers ” he said.

The agreement with Saipan Travel came following a meeting between Liu and officials of the Commonwealth Ports Authority on April 5 during which Taga Air’s request for an airport booking agent was granted. Regino M. Celis acting executive director for CPA said that a booth at the airport was expected to open by April 12.

Jacky Chang operations manager for Saipan Travel said they were still in the process of hiring additional staff to undergo training for the job. He also said that Saipan Travel was still finalizing all documents required for the booking arrangement with Taga Air. “We will be chartering the flights for Taga Air. We will be the booking agency ” Chang said. Saipan Travel has been provided chartered arrangements for Taga Air since the end of November 2005. (See story “Tinian Dynasty offers chartered flight service for evening customers” in the Dec. 12 2005 issue of the Journal.)

Chang said the increased air traffic to Tinian from Saipan was brought about by several factors including the ferry service’s reduction of trips to only daytime ones starting last year necessitated the interim agreement with Taga Air.

“We have so many guests inquiring for air flights to Tinian — that’s why we entered into an agreement.” He said the chartered flights in the past had not been on a daily basis. Chang said “Now that we get more visitors we will have to see the bookings [to determine flight schedules].”

One chartered flight has a minimum of six passengers. Liu said the Taga Air evening flights are intended to provide continued service to the Dynasty. The airline started operations in 2003 with just one pilot and one aircraft he said. “Over the past six months we have expanded to nine aircraft with pilots and 20-plus staff ” Liu said.

“Taga Air is an added transportation service between Tinian and Saipan ” he said. Chartered flight services will run daily between 4p.m. and 11p.m. “With only daytime ferry services available now any guest who wishes to visit Tinian or come to the casino is not able to get over after 5p.m. when the ferry stops its trips or when Freedom Air ends their flights at 6p.m. So Saipan Travel will take over this slack to offer air service between Saipan and Tinian ” Liu said.

He said that in the meantime anyone who wishes to charter a flight between Saipan and Tinian may also do so between 7a.m. to 7p.m. for $160 for a one-way trip of less than five passengers or $192 for six passengers. He said one-way nighttime chartered flights between 7p.m. and 7a.m. is $340 for a trip of up to six passengers. Each flight is also subject to maximum of 1 000 lbs. of baggage Liu said. MBJ