Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands is an insular area Commonwealth of the US located in the western pacific. The country comprises of 15 islands, two of which are inhabited, and has a population of over 50,000. The country’s main international airport, Saipan International Airport, is located on the island of Saipan and is currently services by several international carriers.
Airports in Northern Mariana Islands
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All Nippon Airways chose the name "Vanilla Air" for its LCC in part for Vanilla Air's popularity, simplicity and inoffensive connotation. Those characteristics will be the initial theme for Vanilla Air's route network, as the carrier largely sticks to the network created by AirAsia Japan, the JV that will end operations in Oct-2013 before re-branding to Vanilla Air in Nov-2013.
Vanilla Air's initial route network from its Tokyo Narita hub will include Okinawa, Sapporo, Seoul Incheon and Taipei Taoyuan. Vanilla intends to later launch services to beach markets like Guam and Saipan. ANA ended Guam services in 2009 and has not served Saipan in recent history.
A later phase could see Vanilla Air serve Indonesia and other points within eight hours' flying, which will presumably require an aircraft other than the A320 Vanilla plans to launch with. Vanilla has flagged that A330 operations could be a possibility in the future. This raises concern as Vanilla Air will already be challenged to achieve a strict cost base and have efficient operations. With plans to offer free checked luggage to all passengers, Vanilla Air may be morphing from a low-cost carrier to a hybrid leisure carrier. But, unless a clear vision is specified from the start, erosion of low cost objectives will be inevitable.
Planned Northern Mariana Islands flag carrier Saipan Air has indefinitely postponed its launch following its charter partner Swift Air failing to fulfil its contractual obligation to provide aircraft a mere week before Saipan Air's planned 01-Jul-2012 launch to Tokyo Narita. Swift Air subsequently filed for bankruptcy, leaving it unclear if Saipan Air can recoup any of the USD1.26 million it paid to the US charter operator.
At the same time of Saipan Air's collapse, Delta announced it would increase summer capacity between Tokyo Narita and Saipan from 14 weekly flights to 18, although this addition will still be less than what Saipan planned to introduce, and will leave other markets unserved. Delta is the sole operator between Tokyo and Saipan, an island commonwealth of the US that has been vying with Guam to increase tourists. The current wave of Japanese LCCs, as part of a larger North Asian LCC movement, may achieve that in Saipan Air's place.
Jetstar Japan became on 03-Jul-2012 the second low-cost carrier to launch domestic services in Japan this year, ushering in a new era not only for Japan but wider North Asia, where progressive policies and support for LCCs have been few.
Coupled with a flurry of recent open skies agreements, Japan’s influence on North Asia will grow as Jetstar Japan targets the launch of international flights from 1H2013 to countries including China, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan.
Jetstar Japan will be the last of the new LCCs to launch international services, with Peach having commenced international services in May-2012, two months after its domestic launch, and All Nippon Airways JV AirAsia Japan planning international flights from Oct-2012, two months after its Aug-2012 domestic launch. As the carriers, and Jetstar Japan in particular, grow internationally, the region will change at a greater rate than some incumbent airlines and countries have the bandwidth to support.
The Northern Mariana Islands is set to receive its first home carrier when Saipan Air launches on 01-Jul-2012, initially serving Japan's Tokyo and Osaka as well as China's Beijing and Shenyang. Backed by Tan Holdings, Saipan's largest private employer, the carrier seeks to gain back the Japanese traffic the islands lost after Japan Airlines withdrew in Oct-2005, taking out 182,000 seats annually. Japanese arrivals, which accounted for 71% of arrivals, immediately declined by 25% and have been shrinking since.
With only Asiana and Delta Air Lines now directly linking Saipan and Japan, Saipan Air could make large inroads, but the three low-cost carriers starting in Japan this year could easily overtake the legacy carriers in Saipan's almost entirely leisure market. Meanwhile China has been a growing market for the Northern Mariana Islands. Not only are LCCs there nascent but the full service carriers are largely focussed on domestic and high-profile international flying.