MORE short-haul foreign airlines have expressed interest in operating at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), an official of the Department of Tourism (DOT) said yesterday.
Erwin Balane, head of the DOT’s Route Development, disclosed that the recent Routes Asia 2016 held in Manila has led to some “positive leads” for Cebu as far as connectivity is concerned.
Declining to disclose names of the airlines, Balane told Sun.Star Cebu that carriers from Bangkok, Indonesia, and Japan and four airlines from China are eyeing to mount regular flights to Cebu.
“Most likely they are completing their business case for the Philippine market, specifically Cebu. After that, they will come here to do inspections and apply for some necessary permits,” said Balane.
Routes Asia is the largest development event for the Asia-Pacific region, bringing together a range of airlines, airports, and tourism authorities, including some of the largest carriers from the whole of Asia.
The airlines’ business case usually cover the market potentials such as the inbound and outbound opportunities for the airline as well as the capacity and the availability of services of the receiving airport.
Balane, though, has yet to know when these airlines will start operating but he noted that these are the positive developments that came after the Routes Asia event.
He added these airlines also have their own connections to North America and Europe.
Aside from the rehabilitation of the airport, an advantage MCIA has is its strategic location, being the biggest international hub outside Manila. Balane also cited the airport’s strong connections, both in the international and provincial areas.
“Cebu has become a leisure destination with strong connectivity to anywhere in the country and overseas,” he said.
The latest foreign carrier to begin flying to Cebu is China-based Xiamen Air.
Some 174 passengers were welcomed by the DOT 7, MCIA and GMCAC yesterday during the inaugural flight of Xiamen Air. Aboard the flight were Philippine Consul General Julius Cesar Flores and some Xiamen businessmen.
The new direct route between Cebu and Xiamen, China is one of the important milestones of MCIA, said MCIA Authority General Manager Nigel Paul Villarete.
“This is the first scheduled flight to China,” Villarete said, recalling that flights between these two destinations were chartered in the past and are only seasonal.
“We believe that this is the start of more connections between Cebu and China, the largest tourism and travel source in the world.”
Xiamen Air’s connection to Cebu, according to Balane, was a product of the country’s aggressive negotiations back in 2014. After a year, the airline mounted flights to Manila, which eventually resulted in a daily service flight from three-flights per week.
“The airline told us that they were just testing the market. But during that time, we have been pushing Cebu already and now that they have gained traction in Manila, the airline has expanded to Cebu just in time that our airport is expanding,” Balane explained.
According to Villarete, China is the top priority of the airport in terms of market development. He noted that if Cebu is able to attract just one percent of the highly populated country, Cebu will gain at least 10 million visitors, exceeding the country’s foreign arrival targets.
Xiamen Air leaves Xiamen at 9 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and arrives in Cebu at 11:55 a.m.
The airline utilizes a Boeing 737 aircraft with a 170-seat capacity.
Xiamen Air has previously opened international routes to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.
The improved connectivity is expected to boost the trade and tourism links of Cebu.
Arrivals from China posted the highest growth last year, according to DOT 7.
This market grew by 80.84 percent or 117,994 arrivals from 65,211 arrivals in 2014, making them the region’s top fourth tourist source market.
According to DOT 7 Director Rowena Montecillo, most of these Chinese tourists went to Negros Oriental for some eco-tourism activities together with their families. She said Negros is becoming the next stop for Chinese tourists because it is more laid-back.
“This is an indication that tourism is starting to spread out in other provinces of the region. We are happy that they are exploring other tourism destinations outside of Cebu but still within the region,” she said.
Last Sunday, MCIA also welcomed passengers on board EVA Airways, which is operating on a daily basis.
The airline departs Taipei, Taiwan at 7:10 a.m. and arrives in Cebu at 10:05 a.m. It will also leave Cebu on the same day at 11:05 a.m. and arrive in Taipei at 2 p.m.
Cebu is EVA Air’s second destination in the country after Manila.
Before the month ends, GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) will be launching a Cebu-Dubai flight through Emirates.
Last March 15, the direct flight to Los Angeles from Cebu by flag carrier Philippine Airlines also marked the first US connection out of MCIA.
GMCAC is actively pursuing potential new airlines and routes targeting destinations like Australia, Thailand, India, Japan, Malaysia and China.
MCIA is the second busiest airport in the Philippines, with the capacity to handle 4.5 million passengers a year and will soon surge to 12.5 million when the new terminal be unveiled by June 2018 to accommodate the continually increasing passenger traffic.