By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Saipan’s MP Enterprises, teaming up with Southern Airways Express, will soon launch an inter-island flight service, providing Northern Marianas and Guam residents with a new travel option. Airline officials announced today that the CNMI’s yet-to-be-named airline will take to the skies in July, initially offering over 90 weekly flights serving Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam.
The new carrier said it will announce the airline name, schedules, fares and open ticket sales in the coming weeks once the Department of Transportation's approval of the local trade name has been received.
“The airline will revolutionize inter-island travel within the CNMI,” said Keith Stewart, president of MP Enterprises. “We will launch service with multiple aircraft based in Saipan and Guam, and we are planning for a total of seven aircraft over the next three years to meet the growing demand.”
Southern Airways is a local air service carrier with headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida.
As the schedule expands, Stewart said, the airline will offer same-day connectivity to Saipan with United Airline’s Honolulu-Guam flight, allowing passengers to avoid an unnecessary overnight stay in Guam. Stewart said through Southern Airways’ interline agreement with United, travelers will be able “to make a seamless reservation from Tinian, Rota, or Saipan to anywhere in the United network." “We are delighted to have partnered with Southern Airways to establish the CNMI’s newest airline,” he added. “As one of the largest regional airlines in America, Southern offers scale, experience and a solid reputation, ensuring the long-term viability and stability of this important new inter-island service."
“Southern is very excited to partner with MP Enterprises,” said Stan Little, chairman and CEO of Southern Airways. “With our more than 240 peak-day departures across six time zones, we have worked very hard to establish ourselves as a respected presence in the airline community. Expanding our footprint to include the CNMI and Guam further cements Southern’s place among the world’s leading airlines.”
Little noted that Southern Airways completed over 99.3 percent of its more than 64,000 scheduled flights in 2021, leading all commuter airlines in on-time performance."
He said MP Enterprises' "reputation, trust and desire to make a positive impact" on the CNMI “align with Southern’s core values and vision,"
According to the joint venture's press release, Southern Airways will act as the air service operator focusing on safety, flight and ground operations, ticketing and maintenance, while MP Enterprises will contribute market knowledge, media, governmental relations, route development and community outreach to the joint company. Stewart and Little said local ownership ensures that decisions affecting the CNMI are made with local input and considerations. The airline will operate brand-new twin-engine Tecnam P2012 Traveler aircraft. The Tecnam P2012 Traveler is known as the world’s most advanced twin-engine turbocharged piston aircraft. Manufacturing aircraft for more than 70 years, Tecnam has developed the P2012 Traveler to meet the challenges of daily scheduled airline operations.
The nine-seat aircraft features generous luggage allowances to complement its sleek and modern interior design, which includes LED reading lights, over-head air conditioning controls, and ergonomic seats with a USB port, armrest, and cup holder for each passenger.
Stewart said the journey to establish a new air service began two years ago when MP Enterprises sought ways to reinvigorate the CNMI economy. The team looked to identify industries that would enable the CNMI to become sustainable and remain so when disasters or economic changes outside of its control occur.
The focus was to create local jobs and export markets targeting food and energy sectors first, said Stewart.
“What we quickly discovered was that without steady, affordable and guaranteed air transportation, (which has not existed in the CNMI since the days of Air Micronesia) local businesses cannot grow and prosper,” Stewart said. The team identified the need to have an international passenger and cargo airline which MP Enterprises is currently working to develop.
Stewart said “the goal was to also meet the needs of inter-island travel following a recommendation from Gov. (Ralph) Torres that airlines explore the possibility of inter-island solutions that would help to lower the cost of flights between Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam."
He said the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the development of an international airline, prompting MP Enterprises to shift its focus to recruiting a partner for inter-island service.
The expansion of inter-island air service that is linked to the CNMI’s multi-island destination goal forms part of the Marianas Visitors Authority 2030 Strategic Plan, along with plans and recommendations published by the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.