Philippine gov't pursues air talks

By Lenie Lectura, Business Mirror

Posted at Jun 11 2008 08:05 AM | Updated as of Apr 20 2010 07:28 PM

The government is pursuing air talks with several countries as local airlines are setting their sights on more overseas flights.

A Philippine air panel will soon negotiate with its counterpart in Australia to amend an existing bilateral air services agreement (ASA) following requests from Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific for more seat entitlements.

An official of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) said Tuesday that Cebu Pacific has recently informed the board of its interest to mount flights to Australia. PAL, on the other hand, wants to increase its flights to that continent.

“We received a letter from Cebu Pacific. It is planning to fly to Australia in September this year. PAL already flies there but it had reduced its flights before. Now, they want to add more flights to Australia,” said CAB deputy director Porvenir Porciuncula in an interview.

PAL and Cebu Pacific are planning to mount daily flights to Australia, added the CAB official.

The CAB is waiting for reply from the Australian officials’ availability if air talks can be set next month. “We have to negotiate for an amended ASA with Australia so that we could accommodate the requests of interested airlines,” added Porciuncula.

Next month, the CAB will also pursue similar talks with the Netherlands. “The Netherlands air talks will be held first week of July. Right now, KLM is the only airline operating Manila-Amsterdam direct flight. PAL can gain access to Europe with a code-share deal with KLM. There is a demand to increase the frequencies, particularly for business people and investors who are always on-the-go and prefer direct flights. These are the reasons why we need more flight entitlements,” said Porciuncula.

The CAB is also working on to finalizing the schedules for air talks with Japan, Thailand and Cambodia. “We are targeting to hold air talks with these countries from August onwards,” he said.

For this month, the panel will go to Clark for a scheduled two-day air talks with Hong Kong officials. Other agencies involved in the air talks are the departments of Transportation and Communications, Tourism and Trade and Industry as well as other airline representatives.

“We are trying to increase the flights to Hong Kong in other points outside Manila like Clark, Cebu and Davao. Manila’s airport is already saturated,” added the CAB official.

Hong Kong air talks is slated on June 25 and 26, added Porciuncula.

Cebu Pacific had said it could exceed its goal to carry seven million passengers this year if allowed to mount flights from Clark to Hong Kong.

The airline unit of Gokongwei-owned JG Summit Holdings targets to reach at least seven million passengers this year from last year’s 5.5 million. If given a chance to match the Clark-Hong Kong service of Hong Kong Express, then it could carry a total of more than seven million passengers this year, airline officials said.

“It is unfortunate that a Filipino airline does not have the same privilege a foreign airline enjoys in the Philippines,” said Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and product. She added that Cebu Pacific’s application last year to fly from Clark to Hong Kong, among other destinations, was turned down by the Hong Kong Civil Aviation due to the lack of entitlements.

Hong Kong Express, however, can mount the same service because of Executive Order 500A, which virtually opened up Clark to foreign carriers. “But the favor has not been returned. In our case, the foreign governments turned down our application to fly from Clark, making it a nonviable fourth hub for Cebu Pacific at this time. We would like to see reciprocity and fairness,” she added.

Iyog added that making Clark the staging point for various international destinations is strategically important since those from northern Luzon do not have to travel all the way to Manila to catch their international flights. Also, this will unlock economic opportunities in the North and will prepare Clark for its eventual expanded role as an international gateway.

Cebu Pacific and PAL have always been for reciprocal open skies and are agreeable to a competitive setup because this would give the Philippine carriers the same opportunity being given to foreign carriers in vying for passengers and operating new routes.

Cebu Pacific will still continue to pursue a fourth operational hub in Clark as soon as all the necessary government approvals to operate to Bangkok, Macau, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore are granted.  It also wants to fly to Bangkok three times a week; Macau, four times a week; and daily to Hong Kong from the Clark airport.