BY MARK RABAGO
I FADANG, Saipan — Northern Marianas Airways showed off its Boeing 757-200 aircraft on Oct. 20 at the Francisco M. Palacios-Saipan International Airport with the promise that the venture is expected to add $400 million the CNMI economy.
“From jobs and economic benefits just with the two planes, we’re looking at $400 million in benefits to the CNMI…There’s no other business that we could come up with that will have as far-reaching positive impact into this economy as having a home-based airline…” said MP Enterprises president Keith Stewart.
Stewart’s other airline venture, Marianas Southern Airways, currently provides a critical link between Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam with modern aircraft, and his partnership with Alaska-based Northern Pacific Airways is expected to fulfill the CNMI’s dream of having its own international airline.
“What we’re trying to do as an airline is we want to help create market diversification by bringing in additional tourists from different destinations… One of the first places we’re going to be opening up or targeting is Australia, but we’re also looking to go to Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and then open up (to) other markets,” he said.
And if everything goes on as planned, Northern Marianas Airways will start serving the CNMI and off-island destinations in the first or second quarter of 2023 with 18 to 20 flights per week.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres shared his excitement over a CNMI-based airline that will bring in tourists from new markets like Australia.
“There’s no greater investment for the CNMI than to partner with an airline to bring tourists in. Because every tourist that comes in is an opportunity for every business on Saipan whether a fisherman, a farmer, a retailer, grocery, restaurant, beach activities,” Gov. Torres said. “When you have this type of investment this is what we need and having a flag carrier registered in the Marianas for us this is the greatest accomplishment that any island destination can ever ask and hope for that is to partner with someone to bring in direct flights.”
Torres said with direct travel established with Australia, he expects more than tourists to make their way.
“It’s not just the Australian tourists who are gonna be coming here. It’s investors. They’ll look around and say maybe I want a restaurant. … they don’t have a brewery here, maybe I’ll bring a brewery. Maybe I’ll upgrade their water sports, maybe I want to join the fishing industry,” he said. “We see that when the Japanese market and Korean market when tourists come in, their investors also come in. I look forward to it and it’s a great day for the Marianas to see this type of investment. (Perhaps) other investors in the region will be wondering ‘maybe it’s time for me to make this investment in Saipan, Rota, or Tinian.’”
Northern Marianas Airways is partnering with Northern Pacific Airways. The Alaska-based airlines CEO Rob McKinney said the arrival of the Boeing 757-200 aircraft on Oct. 20 was to prove that Northern Marianas Airways’ plans are real.
“Having lived on an island in the Pacific for 10 years, I know how important aviation and air service is to island economics and island communities,” he said.
McKinney added that what Northern Marianas Airways is planning is in line with their carrier’s goals.
“Northern Pacific Airways was founded in Alaska to serve rural Alaskan communities,” he said. “So, our whole core value on what we do has always been to serve isolated communities that depend on air service and that depend on air travel. In (islands) like (those in) CNMI, air service is the engine that will drive jobs and drive revenues and it will really be a great thing and we have a wonderful opportunity to be a partner on all that.”
Stewart said what’s cool about having a CNMI-based international airline is that people on the island will now have a say about its future.
“The ability to build up the economy much quicker as a result of having the decisions here and not waiting for airlines to decide to come here…Let’s say for example, if we find one city isn’t performing as well by being here we can go and shift and open up another city. We’re not waiting for a decision to be made from one far off land for what needs to come here,” he said.
With regards to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it ravaged island destinations, the Stewart added countries who have their own airline tend to rebound “80%-90%” quicker than those who don’t.
During the tour of the aircraft, Torres said he initially had some doubts that Stewart and MP Enterprises could provide flights between the CNMI and Australia.
“At the beginning I was surprised because that’s a market that I’ve never heard would be possible on Saipan. We’re so used to our Asian market — Japan, Korea, and China,” he said. However, after some research he realized “Australia is a good opportunity for us “to showcase what the Marianas are about.”
“I really look forward to seeing them succeed because when they succeed we all succeed,” Torres said.
Northern Marianas Airways’s Boeing 757-200 aircraft has 16 business class seats, 36 premium economy seats, and 129 economy seats.
The B757 can operate from almost any airport in the world, including noise-restricted airports, short runways and airports in hot and high locations. It is fuel-efficient and meets worldwide standards for engine emissions. mbj