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CNMI delegate: USDOT restriction doesn't affect charter flights from China

Saipan (Marianas Variety)-- U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan told then-Commonwealth Ports Authority Board Chairwoman Kimberlyn King-Hinds last week that the U.S. Department of Transportation's order limiting China-U.S. flights to 24 a week does not affect charter flights from China to the CNMI.

The CPA board reached out to Kilili two weeks ago to seek his support for CPA’s request to USDOT to exempt the CNMI from the restriction, citing the importance of Chinese tourism to the local economy. Prior to the pandemic, China was the CNMI’s second largest tourism market next to South Korea.

In his reply, Kilili told King-Hinds that the USDOT restriction "only applies to scheduled air service" between China and Saipan. So it should not affect the arrivals of Chinese tourists who fly to the CNMI on chartered flights.

He said according to USDOT, "charter flights between China and the Marianas are still allowable; Chinese tourists can travel to the Marianas via non-scheduled charter flights, which I understand is how Chinese visitors arrive."

He also told King-Hinds that airlines from China are currently authorized to have 18 weekly round-trip flights to the U.S., and USDOT's order increases this number to 24 beginning Oct. 29.

Kilili said that it is the responsibility of China's Civil Aviation Administration to allocate flights to U.S. destinations, but, to date, China has not allocated flights to the CNMI.

He said USDOT’s action was in response to China's unilaterally imposing Covid-19 restrictions that all but shuttered the U.S.-China passenger air transportation market for three years.

"This was inconsistent with China's binding obligations to the U.S. under the U.S.-China Civil Air Transport Agreement," Kilili said.

Nevertheless, he added, USDOT “is gradually increasing capacity to facilitate an orderly reopening of the U.S.-China market, in accordance with public interest."

In an interview on Friday, King-Hinds said Chinese tourists do not travel to the CNMI on regular charter flights.


“Chinese travelers buy a bunch of seats from airlines when they travel to the CNMI. It would appear like a charter flight, but it’s not,” she said.

King-Hinds, whose term as CPA board member expired on Oct. 7, 2023, said "we should be doing everything we can to bring those tourists back" to improve the economy and generate more revenue for the government.

King-Hinds said “a lot of people are knocking on neighbors’ doors selling tickets to raise funds for the medical referrals of loved ones. Many are also knocking on doors seeking help in finding a job.”

She noted that the CNMI government has just enacted a fiscal year 2024 budget that does not include funding for the retirees’ 25% benefit. "My mom is a retiree. When her 25% gets cut off who do you think will help her?" she asked.

She added that a lot of retirees could be in a more difficult situation.

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