Cebu Pacific mulls first long haul flights to UAE

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 24 2009 08:47 PM | Updated as of Feb 25 2009 04:52 AM

As the Philippine government continues to relax its aviation policies, local budget airline, Cebu Pacific Air, is finding more opportunities to expand its network.

The Gokongwei-led carrier has expressed interest to mount flights for the lucrative Philippines-Middle East route, starting with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

If ever, this route will be the carrier's first try in the long haul market. It currently covers regional and local destinations, where flights just last up to 3 hours.

Cebu Pacific's current business model depends on fast turnovers, with planes spending more time in the air than on the ground to maximize yield.

The airline's president Lance Gokongwei said last week that they are looking at the UAE market. "We hope to acquire the rights to fly in the Middle East to serve more overseas Filipino workers. For the moment, we are looking at UAE."

Gokongwei's comments came at the heels of the recently agreed air services agreement between the Philippines and the UAE.

The air panels of the two countries have agreed to amend their air pact to expand weekly flights.

Each country could now mount more flights to and from Manila airport. The previous cap of 9 flights a week was increased to 14 flights.

Also added were 42 new flights to and from Clark airport to benefit mostly travellers based in central and northern Luzon. Philippine and UAE airlines that will operate flights in Clark have fifth-freedom rights, or those referring to the right to carry passengers from a carrier's own country to a second country, and from that country to a third country.

The Philippines was also granted 21 more weekly flights to Cebu and another 21 more to be used to other points other than Manila, Clark and Cebu . Previously, Cebu and other points were only entitled to five weekly flights.

The Philippines' air negotiating panel upped the pace of its negotiation with its counterparts in other countries. In 2008, it conducted about 10 air negotiations, a far cry from an average of one a year in the past decade.

The Philippines' aviation policy has relaxed from the many years it shielded local carriers from global competition.

The air panel is composed of representatives from the transportation, tourism, and foreign affairs departments, and other stakeholder groups, like the local airlines and airports,