Tourism leaders say pocket open skies to favor foreign carriers only

By Mary Ann LL. Reyes, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 11 2011 07:20 AM | Updated as of Jul 11 2011 07:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Tourism stakeholders have warned that Executive Order no. 29 or the new pocket open skies policy will give foreign airlines the opportunity to avail of unlimited and unrestricted fifth freedom landing rights in the country even though this has nothing to do with increasing tourist arrival.

Robert Lim Joseph, a tourism industry leader, said tourism stakeholders, including the Tourism Congress which met last June 24 at the Marriott Hotel in Cebu, do not understand the logic behind the granting of unlimited and unrestricted fifth freedom rights to foreign airlines under EO 29 since this would not result in more tourist arrivals.

“Does anybody know what fifth freedom is? No one understands it yet government inserted it in EO 29 purportedly to boost tourism,” he said.

Among the groups confounded by the so-called fifth freedom is the Tourism Congress, which is the private sector consultative body created by the Tourism Act of 2009 to assist government in the development, implementation and coordination of tourism policies, plans and programs.

Joseph said if the purported goal of EO 29 is to attract more tourists, then the grant of fifth freedom rights to foreign airlines is not the correct policy. Fifth freedom, he said, is focused on allowing foreign airlines to sell tickets to and pick up passengers bound for a third country.

Citing an example, he said foreign airlines granted fifth freedom rights like, say, Singapore Airlines or Malaysian Airlines can now land in Clark, pick up passengers there and fly them to a third country like the United States. The Philippines is the biggest market for US traffic, to and from, in Southeast Asia.

“How can this boost tourist travel when, in fact, you are taking Filipino traffic out of the country,” he pointed out.

Joseph said while most open skies agreements are between two countries with reciprocal exchange of rights, the pocket open skies policy as enunciated by EO 29 offers landing rights to foreign airlines, including fifth freedom rights, “without restrictions on frequency, capacity and type of aircraft.”

“This is the real threat, it is one-sided in favor of foreign airlines,” he stressed. “What is worst, Clark in the future will be the premier airport and the foreign carriers will be lording it over the time slots and frequencies.”

He said the only way to resolve the issue is to delete the fifth freedom provision in EO 29 and insert the word “reciprocity” in the EO or its implementing rules and regulations.

“Our appeal to President Aquino is to remove the fifth freedom provision and insert the word reciprocity in the EO so that our local carriers would be given equal opportunity to compete with foreign airlines,” Joseph said.