SINGAPORE - The Changi Airport is now host to Philippine budget carrier Airphil Express, which launched its maiden international flight on Wednesday.
The airline -- owned by the Philippines' second richest man, Lucio Tan -- will operate 14 weekly flights between Manila and Singapore, as well as Singapore and Cebu.
"This is a testament to the strong links between the Philippines and Singapore on the trade and tourism fronts," said Yam Kum Weng, executive vice president for Air Hub Development of the Changi Airport Group.
Singapore, home to over 160,000 Filipinos, was the Philippines' largest trading partner in the ASEAN region in 2009, with total trade amounting to $6.2 billion.
Filipino visitors in Singapore reached 430,000 last year, representing a year-on-year growth of about 12%.
This number is expected to grow further this year, said Neal Imperial, minister and consul general of the Philippine embassy in Singapore.
"Because of the surge in travel, our two governments signed an expanded air services agreement in May this year, allowing an additional 40 flights from Singapore to Manila," Imperial noted.
The Manila-Singapore route is one of the most profitable and high-growth routes for airlines operating in Southeast Asia. It is currently serviced by full-service carriers Singapore Airlines and Philippine Airlines (PAL), and by budget airlines Jetstar Airways and Cebu Pacific Air.
Singapore is Airphil's first international destination. It is the sixth airline to commence operations in Changi this year.
For her part, Airphil Express vice president for marketing and media Maria Java said, "Our rock bottom rate of SG$30 one-way was a hit among the Filipino professionals [in Singapore.]"
New planes, destinations
In the meantime, Airphil Express announced it posted record sales in the last 2 months.
"Our investors are very confident in the momentum of the airline," said Java, but she declined to disclose financial figures.
It also just started flights to Legazpi and Tagbilaran direct from Manila in the Philippines using its new Airbus 320 aircraft. New flights from Cebu to Catarman, Naga and Ozamis were launched simultaneously.
Airphi Express took delivery of two Airbus 320s in September, and expects two more to arrive by end-November.
It plans to spend $250 million for the acquisition of up to 20 more aircraft to service both domestic and expanding international operations in the next 2 and a half years.
Airphil was formerly Air Philippines until it was folded into the operations of PAL and its budget airline arm, PAL Express. In October 2009, Airphil began operating PAL Express flights on behalf of PAL.
Airphil Express' financial performance has bucked that of sister airline PAL, which has posted losses amounting to P15 billion in the last 2 years.
PAL is trying to stave off a planned strike by the 1,600-strong Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines after the two camps failed to reach a compromise on economic, gender and retirement issues.
The government has taken jurisdiction over the matter to avert paralyzing operations of the Philippine flag carrier.
The planned strike is the latest in a string of labor problems to hit PAL.
In August, 25 pilots and first officers on PAL's short-haul aircraft suddenly quit for higher paying jobs abroad, forcing the abrupt cancellation of several flights.