Saipan-based startup Marianas Pacific Airlines (Saipan) d/b/a Northern Marianas Airways is reportedly negotiating with Northern Pacific Airways (Anchorage Ted Stevens) to wet lease B757-200s to begin passenger flights to Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines before the end of 2023.

The Marianas Variety newspaper is reporting that a B757-200 is scheduled to land at Saipan International Airport on Tuesday, October 18, and will remain at the airport until October 23 while the startup airline lobbies tourism and government officials for support. If the airline gets off the ground, it will become the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) first international carrier.

"This is an opportunity to demonstrate to stakeholders the high level of service that we are able to provide with this aircraft type and to show that the CNMI can have an airline that our citizens can be extremely proud of," Northern Marianas Airways President Keith Stewart told the newspaper. "Importantly, the provision of direct flights to Saipan from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines will be transformational for our economy and provide the economic growth that we so badly need. Tax revenue alone for the CNMI is anticipated to be in excess of USD25 million per year."

Operating as a United States FAA-approved scheduled service Part 121 air carrier, Northern Marianas Airways plans to provide 52 flights a week on seven routes within the next three years using US-registered aircraft. The airline says the planned routes will put 313 million people living in four countries within a six-hour flying time of Saipan.

Stewart confirmed to ch-aviation that he was in talks with Northern Pacific Airways to initially wet two B757-200s, followed by a third and fourth later in 2023, depending on route performance.

"The commencement of services is subject to appropriate route approvals and slots, however, we anticipate that services would commence by mid-2023. Initial operations will be to Australia to provide that market with a new island sun destination that is on the same time zone as the east coast with the ability for holidaymakers to reach the Northern Marianas on a direct flight," he said. "We also plan to operate two services a week to Manila Ninoy Aquino International. Services to Japan and Korea will likely start in late 2023 as part of an overall strategy to boost tourism, and hence drive economic growth."

Northern Pacific Airways said the discussions were in the preliminary stage. "Northern Pacific Airways sees this opportunity as a great fit for both airlines as well as the people of the Northern Marianas Islands, as it would be an efficient way to increase lift into the area and support its re-emerging tourism industry," a spokesperson told ch-aviation.

Northern Pacific has ambitions to fly between the US and Japan via its Anchorage Ted Stevens hub. But ongoing travel restrictions in Japan have thwarted those plans to date and the startup recently applied to fly between the US and Mexico. However, Japan is now easing its entry restrictions. The Pacific Daily News is reporting that the Japan - Saipan - Australia sectors would operate as an extension of the planned US-Japan flights.

A prominent Saipan businessman, Stewart's company MP Enterprises recently teamed up with Southern Airways to successfully launch a new domestic airline in the Northern Marianas called Marianas Southern Airways.

"With Marianans Southern Airways we have provided affordable fares to Tinian, Rota International, and Guam International,” said Stewart. “We plan to do the same with fares to Australia and other parts of the world to help jumpstart tourism in the CNMI."

The ch-aviation fleets module reveals Northern Pacific Airways has a fleet of four B757-200s. All are categorised as inactive and stored variously at Ontario International, Jacksonville Cecil Field, FL, Roswell, and San Bernardino.