Philippines double Flights –Saudi, Air France-KLM cites Philippine-EU prospects

FRANCO-DUTCH airline Air France-KLM sees traffic between the Philippines and the European Union (EU) picking up in the long run from currently limited volumes, an official said in an interview after a briefing last Friday.

Asked on the plan of Philippine Airlines (PAL) to revive flights to Europe next year after an expected lifting of the current ban in that bloc on local carriers, Jurriaan Stelder, the foreign airline's new general manager for South China Sea, said the move may temporarily divide market share but that traffic should pick up eventually.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is currently the only carrier offering flights to Europe under its Manila-Taipei-Amsterdam route.

"There could be a temporary effect, but in the end, the demand will exceed the capacity again," Mr. Stelder said.

"There might be a temporary drop in traffic, because indeed, the same passenger traffic between the Philippines and Europe will be there and you will have to divide it between the two; therefore it will affect us," he explained.

PAL President Ramon S. Ang told reporters in July that the company is looking to revive flights to Europe next year, hoping that current government efforts will succeed in removing the "significant safety concern" cited by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in December 2009, which in turn prompted EU in March 2010 to ban Philippine carriers from flying to Europe.

William K. Hotchkiss III, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said last June that he hoped an ICAO audit set for late next month will yield favorable results. He said ICAO's concerns, such as "strengthening the organization and the training of qualified inspectors," were "being addressed."

Mr. Ang had said three Boeing 777-300ER aircraft will be delivered next year in preparation for more long-haul flights, including possibly to Europe.

"We would welcome Philippine Airlines to fly to Europe because it will help develop the market between the Philippines and Europe," Mr. Stelder said.

"If you look at the market -- flights between Europe and Manila -- and if you compare that to other similar countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, it has much less traffic," he added. "With more options to fly, the market will grow."

Cebu Pacific has said it is also looking at flights to Europe after it starts long-haul operations to the Middle East next year.

"I am confident that we will be able to hold on to our passenger numbers for sure if we continue to develop the aviation sector between the Philippines and Europe," Mr. Stelder said, noting the airline's load factor along the Manila-Taipei-Amsterdam route is "around 90%."

Civil Aeronautics Board data show KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flew 84,897 passengers through the country in the first half, down 34.22% from the previous year after the carrier stopped direct flights between Manila and Amsterdam amid calls to abolish the 3.5% common carriers tax on foreign airlines. While the House of Representatives approved the bill scrapping this tax last May, the measure remains at the committee level in the Senate

Saudi Arabia expands and doubled flight frequencies

An increasing demand for air travel between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia prompted the two states to renegotiate and expand the number of flights between their respective airports.

 As a result, KSA and the Philippines agreed – during air talks last Monday and Tuesday – to increase the number of flight frequencies to 21 per week from 10, Carmelo Arcilla, Civil Aeronautics Board executive director told reporters Wednesday.

 Also agreed was to have an unlimited number of flights between Dammam, the Kingdom's eastern province, and Clark International Airport in Pampanga, Arcilla added.

 "The parties signed a new agreement increasing the allowed flight frequency for the airline of each country from the current 10 flights per week to 21, on the route Philippines to Jeddah/Riyadh and unlimited between Saudi Arabia and Clark and also between the Philippines and Damman," he said.

Transportation Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla led the Philippine panel in the talk with their Saudi counterparts, with Arcilla sitting as vice chair.

Other members of the panel were representatives from the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, Tourism, and Labor and Employment.

Business World Online, GMA News

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