Asean Open Skies Will Go On Sans Manila


NAIA Terminal 1
NAIA Terminal 1

IT’S embarrassing.

This was the reaction of aviation expert Avelino Zapanta to the Philippines’s continued protection of Manila from foreign carriers, despite the rest of the member-nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) agreeing to open up their capital cities.

“Nakakahiya nga, but it won’t stop the Asam [Asean-Single Aviation Market],” he opined. ASAM takes full effect in December 2015, as Asean becomes one economic community.

Zapanta, author of 100 Years of Philippine Aviation 1909-2009, the definite reference on airline management in the Philippines, also said the Asean open-skies policy will spur local airlines to offer more intra-Asean routes.

“I think some Philippine carriers will take advantage of Asam, like Cebu Pacific.  It has the resources and it is aggressive.  It has ordered more ATR72s, ideal for the noncapital cities of the other Asean countries, e.g., Zamboanga to Sandakan and Puerto Princesa to Kota Kinabalu, among many others.  I think, PAL Express will do so, too.  But the most aggressive will be Air Asia Zest, since Asam is right down the group’s alley.”

The Philippines continues to stall on the ratification of Protocols 5 and 6 of the 2009 Multilateral Agreement on Air Services (MAAS) that would give Asean airlines unlimited third, fourth and fifth freedom rights to operate between capital cities.

Zapanta, who is also president of the Southeast Asian Airlines International, a charter service, said the Civil Aeronautics Board “has proposed the ratification of Protocols 5 and 6, but it has not been acted upon by the President [Mr. Aquino].”

For its part, pioneering flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) supports the Aquino administration’s protection of Naia in Manila, the main gateway of tourists to the Philippines, due to its congested runways and terminals.

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But it added that it supports ASAM, as it opens up secondary airports as other tourism gateways to the Philippines.

In an e-mail, airline President and COO Jaime J. Bautista said: “PAL has supported Asean open skies as a way of stimulating the opening of direct airline routes to the Philippines’s tourist gateways. With PAL’s support, the Philippines ratified Asean open skies several years ago for services to all Philippine airports, except Naia; and, thus, any Asean airline can operate nonstop from any airport in the Asean region to Cebu, Clark, Davao, Laoag, Laguindingan, Bohol, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and any other secondary airports in the country.”

He added: “The remaining obstacle is Manila, because the runways, terminals and facilities at Naia are currently overstressed in handling existing flights, much less any significant expansion of flights under any kind of open-skies arrangement.  The government has rightfully held back from including Naia in the ratified Asean open- skies agreements, and, indeed, there is much work to be done to expand Naia or develop a new Manila airport before the Philippines could consider meaningful open skies.  In the meantime, Asean airlines can serve the capital by flying to Clark.” Aileen Clemente, president of the Asean Tourism Association (Aseanta), earlier said the issue of having no more slots in Manila for foreign carriers and the principle of open skies should be separate from each other. She pointed out that “Indonesia already signed [the protocols], even if the Jakarta airport currently doesn’t have slots to provide [foreign carriers],” making the Philippines the last holdout to the region-wide agreement.

Aseanta is composed of public and private tourism-sector organizations from the Asean, which help implement the Asean strategic tourism plan—a road map to ensure that the region remains a successful tourism destination.

Zapanta, for his part, believes the rest of Asean will not press the Philippines to fully open its main gateway to foreign carriers, even if it will be the remaining country, which will continue to do so. “The other members of Asean will respect the limitation we imposed in the non-ratification of Protocols 5 and 6.  They have the option to reciprocate the restriction, i.e., not giving the Philippines unlimited third, fourth and fifth [flying rights] in their capital cities, and keep within bilaterally agreed level of such traffic rights.”

Third and fourth freedom rights allow carriers to fly from their home country to another foreign country, sans government approval.

Fifth freedom rights allows any carrier to fly between two foreign countries during flights originating or ending in said airline’s home country.

Meanwhile, PAL said it was willing to compete under the ASAM but urged other Asean member- nations to privatize their flag carriers to make competition more equitable in the region.

“PAL is always able and willing to  compete with airlines in Asean and all  over the world,” said Bautista.  “In Asean  we’ve advocated a policy for each member-state to take the bold leap to privatize their flag carriers, so that their airlines can progress from state ownership and dependence to become normal business enterprises.  That would make it more fair or equitable, as the Philippines is the only Asean member-state to have made those bold moves more than two decades ago.”

The 10 members of the Asean are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source: Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo, http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/

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