One seat apart in planes? Airlines say 'not economically viable'

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2020 12:47 PM | Updated as of May 11 2020 02:09 PM

The cabin of a Cebu Pacific aircraft is disinfected to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Handout photo/Cebu Pacific

MANILA (UPDATE) -- Physical distancing in flights, where passengers will be seated one seat apart, will be unprofitable, the Philippines' airlines told lawmakers, as they reiterated their call for government aid.

While there have been no large-scale layoffs, a wage subsidy from Congress will help "sustain" jobs in aviation, said Air Carriers Association of the Philippines Vice Chairman Roberto Lim. The group includes Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia Philippines.

Losses have so far amounted to $5 billion (P250 billion). Some 25,000 airline employees are "affected" by the travel ban, and the uncertainty could be felt in 500,000 other tourism jobs, he said.

A possible one-seat apart policy in planes "will not be economically viable for the airlines," Lim said. Airlines will "break even" only if flights are 70 percent full, he said.

Local airlines will need about P1.3 billion a month for wage subsidies, P6.8 billion for working capital and P500 million for navigational charges, landing and take-off fees and other operational payments, Lim told senators.

The government also has to set up health and quarantine facilities in tourism hubs before airlines can fly to domestic destinations, he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto told Lim to submit a list of possible assistance the government can extend to keep the aviation industry afloat.

Other foreign carriers have also asked their several governments for aid as losses in the global air transport industry climbed to at least $250 billion (P12.58 trillion) due to the coronavirus pandemic.