BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
As travel between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands becomes easier, businesspeople and residents are questioning why it is not yet possible to fly between Guam and Rota.
Shaun Christian, president of Star Marianas Air — which currently flies between Saipan and Rota told the Journal that the airline is dealing with the same requests.
“The people of Rota have been asking us to resume the scheduled flights,” he said.
The last flight between Guam and Rota was on Dec. 1, 2020.
Previously when resumption of flights was discussed, island leaders in Rota were wary of COVID-19 entering the island.
One barrier to flights is the need for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to check the status of passengers to Guam, since the NMI has some residents who do not have right of entry to Guam.
Currently there are no CBP personnel stationed in Rota or Tinian, since Saipan is currently the only point of entry and exit for international flights.
Star Marianas can fly between the two islands, by prior arrangement, Christian said. “We are offering charter flights between Rota and Guam.” He said CBP has been accommodating in those circumstances, where screening and clearance is conducted through the passenger manifest. “CBP have been great.” The charters have proved highly popular, Christian said.
However, Christian said multiple direct flights will not resume until the cost of permanently stationing personnel in Rota is accounted for through a reimbursement services agreement, or until Rota is again considered an international port of entry were tourism to the island to resume with direct flights.
The cost would need to cover not only transport and a per diem, but also accommodation costs if that were necessary. For the airline, he said the proposition that it carries the financial burden is too high. “It’s not feasible with this new requirement. The risks and costs would be too great to bring an officer down every day.”
In the meantime, CBP would help, he said. “Everybody’s willing, if they work it out with the CNMI government.”
Star Marianas has six flights daily Monday through Saturday between Saipan and Rota, and Christian said the airline typically carries about 40 to 50 passengers a day.
The Tinian Hot Pepper Festival the weekend of March 11 to March 13 drew plenty of arrivals by air, Christan said. The airline carried about 300 people on Sunday, March 13.
In other Star Marianas news, the U.S. Department of Defense approved the airline as an authorized carrier in the first week of January. mbj