SAIPAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — The Commonwealth Ports Authority is moving to terminate its contract with Hogan & Hartson Associates a Washington D.C.-based law firm following a decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation denying its open skies petition.

“We are prepared to look at their project. If it is not the way that we look at it   then we’re going to shut it down. They’ve done their job ” Clyde K. Norita executive director of CPA; told the Journal.

Norita said the law firm had billed CPA approximately $70 000 as of January. Its work started after the CPA Board of Directors adopted the open skies petition on July 17 2006.

The DOT granted the Northern Mariana Islands’ petition that cargo handling and forwarding services by foreign carriers be allowed in NMI airports but denied another request that would have allowed airlines from China Australia and the United Kingdom extra-bilateral rights to fly passengers to the islands and destinations in the U.S.

Guam which had also petitioned DOT for open skies was likewise only granted expanded cargo services on Aug. 9 2006.

In his Feb. 23 letter to the NMI government Andrew B. Steinberg assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs of DOT; said the decision to allow expanded cargo services is “consistent with the public interest as [it] would provide important benefits to the NMI its economy and the traveling and the shipping public.”

“We recognize that air service is vitally important to the NMI [which is] geographically isolated and heavily dependent on air transportation…. In its request for relief the NMI has provided specific evidence of the impact that its economy has suffered because of the declines in its garment industry and cutbacks in some air services.

“With these considerations in mind we … conclude that the NMI has succeeded in demonstrating that a public interest basis exists for the type of relief we propose to confer and we view the public interest basis as persuasive ” Steinberg said.

The decision will take effect two years after it has become final if none of the parties involved including the airlines that had responded to NMI’s petition opt not to show cause why it shouldn’t.

Norita said that the petition for extra-bilateral rights is a matter between the U.S. Department of State and the four airlines’ countries — Japan China Australia and the U.K. — and is therefore beyond DOT’s jurisdiction.

At issue is whether these four countries which Norita said have “restrictive protectionist policies ” would reciprocate and allow U.S. carriers to fly to connecting cities within their jurisdictions rather than just landing at one airport then flying back to the point of origin.

Norita said these are subject to negotiations in a matter of statutes. He said  DOT doesn’t have the jurisdiction to be able to grant the exemption because they are subject to bilateral agreements.

Meanwhile Norita said CPA is considring whether to continue the services of Air Strategy & Marketing Ltd. the U.K.-based firm hired in July to open new air routes to the NMI from Asia and Australia. The contract tasks ASM to negotiate with airline officials in China Hong Kong Taiwan Australia and Philippines.

Norita said airlines approached by ASM have taken a wait-and-see stance. “They said it’s not appropriate for them to fly to the NMI at this time. The market is not there to fly to the NMI.”

Given this development Norita said the CPA board is discussing whether to retain ASM’s contract.

The contract covers a two-year period with an initial fee of $128 000 for the first year and a $15 000 bonus for each new route opened. MBJ