Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sour Grapes for Tuesday, October 23rd

Flying First Class
High Anxiety
Whoever said getting there is half the fun said it before paranoid airport security tsars began to believe that your shampoo and toenail scissors were terrorist weapons. (Parry, thrust, rinse, repeat). Getting anywhere on airplanes is a time consuming and frustrating process these days. If the distance is not long, say 500 miles, we are probably better off driving, or taking a train or a bull cart.

There are places that don’t have the luxury of alternate transportation. We are one of those places. Being 1500 miles from anywhere with a major population and being an island nation means that we are dependant on air transportation to get us back and forth to anywhere other than where we are right now. Today’s fast pace rules out the old way of spending a week or two on a sailing canoe getting to that business meeting in Hong Kong (plus it makes a mess of your 3 piece suit). Also out is using the train to get to Honolulu to visit a sick relative.

That brings us to our current airline predicament. Continental Airlines used to be a mainstay providing reasonable service at reasonable rates to the Marianas. That was when Northern Marianas proponent Larry Hillbloom owned large chunks of Continental’s stock. Those days too are long gone and what we have now is an airline that grudgingly provides sporadic service in small, aging airplanes at outrageously high prices. Apparently Afghan Bruce didn’t skim enough off the top of the Hillbloom casket to afford to buy a large chunk of Continental like his dead, unwilling benefactor did so Aunt Connie decided to disinherit Saipan, Tinian and Rota. It is not just a coincidence that Continental’s most profitable route is out here in Micronesia. They want to keep the biopoly going as long as possible.

Northwest, Connie’s code-share partner, was the only other game in town until Asiana stepped up to the plate and began bringing ever increasing numbers of beach hungry Korean tourists to our shores, thank you. That’s it. That’s all. Other than privately arranged charter flights to and from Japan and China we are at the mercy of Continental and Northwest who don’t care if we sink, swim or row a boat to Bali.

Now comes the part where we talk about a solution to this aerial quagmire. There are two that I can think of and we should be working hard to promote both with all due speed.

First, we should do everything in our power to get an open skies policy here in the NMI. That means opening up our airways to any airline that wants to come here and bring passengers. Let the marketplace decide who comes and goes and at what price. Right now the big American airlines forge under the table and over the table deals with the FAA to restrict competition so they can strangle the last dollar out of our wallets. What if Philippine airlines could bring passengers, tourists and medical referrals direct to and from Manila or Cebu? What if regional and flag carriers could bring in folks from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia? What if we could fly to all those places for business and pleasure direct at reasonable rates? What if regional carriers from the massive Chinese and Japanese markets could fly in whenever they wanted to, unrestricted by some bureaucrat in DC with his hand in the corporate air travel till?

The answer is we would be far better off than we are right now. Convenient, frequent and price competitive flight schedules are the key to increasing tourism here in the CNMI. These are also the key to Marianas residents having open access to business and pleasure locations around the region and around the world. Restricting flights pushes ticket prices sky high, which of course, is why Continental and Northwest wants to keep the current restrictive system in place. We need to fight like cats to get an open skies policy established. It should be pursued on an emergency basis because we are facing an economic, life threatening emergency.

Second, we should actively promote the formation of a flag carrier, an airline based in and named after our market. Saipan Airlines or Marianas Air or Pacific Paradise Airways could be a reality if we actively pursue investors with a viable, professional business plan. We could task MVA to develop such a plan or better yet we could go to an aviation savvy business consultant to generate such a plan. Then we need a competent salesman to go out there and hawk the plan until we find a buyer or a group that will work the plan for a profit.

Trying to start a flag carrier as a government run or government subsidized program is a recipe for failure. This needs to be a private sector process from the word go. Some government involvement to facilitate licensing, CPA airport access, preferred status for a home based carrier etc is okay, but for goodness sake let’s not fall into the trap that Nauru, the Marshall Islands and others have snared themselves with. Governments, ours or any others, are notorious for running airline companies into the ground (sorry, bad visual). A government just doesn’t have the profit motive or the lean, success driven, industry specific workforce necessary to make a go of this hard and very technical business. We want Tropical Airlines not Air Hysteria, so lets work hard toward developing, aiding and promoting a privately owned and operated flag carrier with it’s base of operations right here on Saipan.

Once we have Open Skies and a Flag Carrier working for us you will see airfares drop, schedules become far more convenient and overall seat availability improve radically. That means more tourists able to come here and more of us can travel when we want to.

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Speaking of High and Mighty

I notice that the most vocal anti casino folks like Pelligrino and Bennett always sign off their diatribes with references to God Blessing us all for voting no. As if They have some direct pipeline to God. They try to sneak in an implication that God is on their side and it is ‘Godly’ to keep yourself and your Nation broke, barefoot and pregnant so be sure to vote no for something that might bring back prosperity or disturb their friends in Tinian. Last time I checked God was willing to help those who help themselves. May I suggest that you help yourself by voting Yes for the Saipan Casino Act?
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Speaking of flying
I’m reading an interesting book about the search for Amelia Earhart. Next week I’ll share it’s interesting message with you briefly. Please tune in for the disappearing mystery act.
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Quote of the week:
Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway. Mary Kay Ash (1915 – 2001)

No flying machine will ever be able to fly from New York to Paris… [because] no known motor can run at the requisite speed for four days without stopping. Orville Wright (1871 – 1948)

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