US airline pullout catches CAB off-guard


MANILA, Philippines – The sudden announcement by Continental Micronesia that it would no longer provide direct flights between Manila and Saipan has caught the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) here off-guard.

CAB officials have expressed hope that a Filipino carrier can take up the slack to prevent the situation from getting worse.

The decision to stop flying between Saipan and Manila will affect thousands of Filipino workers in the Northern Marianas and hurt tourism to the islands, which are already suffering the effects of Japan Airlines’ decision to end scheduled flights from Tokyo to Saipan.

Northern Marianas Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said Continental’s decision was another major blow to the tourism-dependent islands.

“Granted, that is a business decision,” CAB director Carmelo Arcilla said. “Although the announcement is surprising–they are supposed to inform us ahead of [time]. In any case, there are still indirect flights to and from Saipan.”

According to CAB deputy director Porvenir Porciuncula, Continental Micronesia will maintain other routes, such as the Guam-to-Manila flight.

“But if [the airline] ever pulls out of that too, maybe a Filipino carrier … would be encouraged to fly to the US territories to service the thousands of Filipinos based there,” Porciuncula said.

Last week, Continental Micronesia Inc. announced that, on July 16, it would drop the only flights directly linking the US-administered Northern Mariana Islands to the Philippines because of soaring jet fuel costs.

The unit of US-based Continental Airlines will also suspend flights from Guam to Hong Kong in July and to Bali from October.