AS THE clock ticks toward Christmas, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) is gearing up for a busy holiday travel on the back of the new flight launches from Cebu.

In an interview with reporters, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) general manager and chief executive officer Julius Neri Jr. said the airport is expecting the number of flights to grow by 40 percent of the pre-pandemic level by the end of this year from 28 percent from the previous months.

Domestic airlines are said to be ramping up their Cebu hub, adding new and existing flights to various destinations across the country. International flights are also mounting flights to Cebu such as China Airlines (Taipei-Cebu route) and Korean Air making its flight daily to Cebu.

“We are expecting more arrivals,” said Neri, adding that the robust expansion of airlines both domestic and international bodes well for Cebu’s tourism and travel sectors. “All these will help increase the number of arrivals to Cebu.”

The MCIAA chief also expects a continued surge in arrivals in January 2023 because of the much-anticipated Sinulog Festival that is going to be celebrated face-to-face after two years of celebrating it virtually.

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 which resulted in lockdowns halted physical gatherings.

“The return of the face-to-face celebration is a big factor alongside the strong leadership of Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia announcing that Cebu is open for business,” Neri said, at the sidelines of the China Airlines’ launching of Cebu-Taipei direct flight last week.

Airlines ramp up flights

Philippine Airlines has recently expanded its Cebu hub with new connections to Baguio, Borongan, Bangkok and Cotabato City and Tawi-Tawi this month. It is also ramping up flights on other domestic routes to and from MCIA, Bacolod and Caticlan (Boracay) seeing additional frequencies in time for the busy holiday season.

Cebu Pacific Air (CEB), on the other hand, has also added flights to and from Cebu starting Dec. 1. Its Cebu-Iloilo-Cebu now flies (25x weekly); Cebu-Dumaguete-Cebu (18x weekly); Cebu-Legazpi-Cebu (10x weekly); Cebu-Surigao-Cebu (10x weekly); Cebu-Pagadian-Cebu (11x weekly); and Cebu-Tacloban -Cebu (28x weekly starting Dec. 16).

Meanwhile, CEB also widened its international footprint as it added more flights to Brunei, Jakarta, Seoul, Taipei, and Hong Kong. To date, CEB flies to a total of 34 domestic and 19 international destinations.

In anticipation of large-scale holiday mobility, AirAsia has already increased its domestic route since November this year. The weekly flight frequency of AirAsia Philippines to the following destinations is increased: Manila-Cebu: 56x; Manila-Tacloban: 35x; Manila - Caticlan: 34x; Manila to Cagayan De Oro, Davao, and Iloilo: 28x; Manila to Kalibo, Tagbilaran, and Puerto Princesa: 21x; and Manila-Zamboanga: 7x. Meanwhile, weekly flights out of the AirAsia Cebu hub to Davao and Cagayan are now at 4x; Caticlan: 7x; and Puerto Princesa: 3x.

“We are still facing challenges in terms of passenger traffic, especially to and from international destinations. We have not yet recovered, in terms of international flights pre-pandemic, but we are well on the way there,” said Neri.

MCIA now has 13 foreign and four Philippine-based airline partners, connecting to 27 domestic destinations and 10 international destinations. (KOC)