Philippines to AirAsia: Be patient on open skies

by Coco Alcuaz, ANC

Posted at May 22 2014 10:30 AM | Updated as of May 23 2014 12:18 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima indicated that airlines and other travel businesses pushing for an "open skies" policy over the whole country need to be patient as the government negotiates with other stakeholders.

The Philippines has a "pocket open skies" policy over some of its airports, but not its main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

Philippine carriers like Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have opposed moves by foreign airlines like Malaysia's AirAsia and Singapore's TigerAir to expand in the Philippines.

Earlier this year, Cebu Pacific bought TigerAir's Philippine operations and formed a partnership with the Singaporean company.

"Change happens in a political environment," Purisima said at a World Economic Forum-East Asia discussion hosted by CNBC. "Small steps may be necessary to ensure we move in the right direction."

Purisima said another reason to restrict access to Manila's airport is it is congested. The government has been criticized for being slow to expand it or build a new airport.

Purisima was reacting to a comment by AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes at the same forum.

Fernandes said regional potential is great but is hindered by various national barriers, such as when governments favor their own carriers. "It's not just open skies," he said. "There are many invisible barriers."

Fernandes joked about how he can turn adversity into gains, saying he could market Thailand now to tourists who want to see a coup.

"There's always opportunity," he said.