PNoy signs ASEAN open skies

TOURISM stakeholders in Cebu lauded the country’s move to sign the multilateral agreement for unlimited flights to neighboring countries, saying this will stimulate travel and tourism within the Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino III signed the ASEAN Multilateral Agreement in Air Services last Feb. 3.

According to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) report obtained from the Official Gazette, the signing of the Protocols 5 and 6 will now allow Philippine air carriers to fly an unlimited number of times to and beyond the capital cities of other ASEAN nations, which will lead to better and more efficient connectivity and translate to more competitive fares and services.

The DOTC and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) will now assist Philippine air carriers in securing additional flight schedules with each of the nine other member States of ASEAN.

The government targets to have new flights operational within the next six months.

The ASEAN Multilateral Agreement in Air Services is part of the ASEAN Roadmap for Integration of Air Transportation Services, which lays down the foundation for the envisioned ASEAN Single Aviation Market. This is expected to foster seamless connectivity within the region, the statement said.

Cebu Pacific welcomed the news, saying that with open skies, it can add more flights to and from key destinations in ASEAN “to meet the growing travel demand within the region.”

“We commend the DOTC, DFA, DOT, CAB and other relevant agencies for supporting the ratification of this agreement. The Philippine aviation industry has reached a milestone that will ultimately benefit the travelling public, as we open our airspace to vast travel opportunities and operational efficiencies between and among ASEAN carriers,” said lawyer JR Mantaring, CEB vice president for corporate affairs, in a statement.

Quicker process

Subject to regulatory approvals, the agreement further allows carriers to upgrade its ASEAN flights to wide-bodied aircraft and increase capacity without the need for air talks. This streamlined process will enable CEB to focus on expanding its operations, stimulating passenger traffic, and improving customer experience rather than spending valuable resources on negotiating for additional air rights.

“Given our government’s support of this liberalized and equitable air services agreement, the Philippines solidifies its position as a prime and competitive global hub for air travel. Cebu Pacific looks forward to contributing to this evolution, and enabling more Filipinos to fly across ASEAN, and across the globe,“ added Mantaring.

Welcome news

CEB offers flights to a network of over 90 routes on 64 destinations, spanning Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. It is slated to launch direct flights between Manila and Guam, its first US destination, on March 15.

“This is a welcome development as far as ASEAN Tourism is concerned. I believe this is a bold step towards ASEAN integration. We will expect then that tourism in the ASEAN region will be more vibrant and healthy since this will open doors for local tourists to travel and contribute to the Asean economy,” said Cebu Association of Tour Operators president Edilberto Mendoza Jr.

Cebu Business Club president Gordon Alan Joseph said this initiative should have an immediate impact on tourism and trade.

“The world is curious about the Philippines and curious to see if we can sustain our development momentum, the new flights will give the world a better venue from which to see into the Philippines,” said Joseph.

While the multilateral agreement on unlimited flights will stimulate travel and bring in cheaper tickets, this would also mean tougher competition, said Jonathan Jay Aldeguer, one of Cebu’s active tourism advocates.

Competitive

“The Cebu airport will be one of the most critical components to optimize the potential for Cebu, so I’m glad we have seen vast improvements as of late. I hope the rest of the industry will react faster to this new development and align our offerings and prices to new trends and demands,” he said.

“The Philippines is still perceived as one of the most expensive destinations to travel to in the region; there should be a ‘correction’ or alignment of some sort so that we will become the most attractive destination in the ASEAN region. We definitely have the resources to do this,” Aldeguer added.

Joseph said increased accessibility through travel promotions increases the country’s attractiveness to investors and tourists.

“Businessmen here are looking at opportunities that open access will bring particularly at a time when the ease of doing business here is not easy at all,” he said.

DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya said the development will “enhance regional trade and investment opportunities for Philippine businesses that are looking to expand their markets. It will also provide better access to Filipino individuals, such as professionals and students, who wish to explore job and educational opportunities in the ASEAN region.”

The ratification of Protocols 5 and 6 provides unlimited access to any point within the ASEAN area, more competitive and better airline services, as well as lower fares and broader options for passengers.

It highlights the Philippines’ commitment to the realization of the Single Aviation Market, and in creating a unified ASEAN Economic Community with an efficient and fully-integrated transport network.

DOTC also said it presents an opportunity for growth of the country’s aviation sector, which will compete directly with other ASEAN carriers. It will encourage service upgrades among local airlines, which have become competitive players in the ASEAN and other regional markets.

To meet the expected impact of greater tourist and economic air activity, the DOTC vowed it will continue to modernize the country’s airport infrastructure. It already rehabilitated Terminal 1 and is fully operating Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and has begun constructing world-class airport facilities in key business and tourist centers such as Cebu, Bohol, and Puerto Princesa.

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