Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lawmakers, aviation exec lukewarm to ‘open skies’

Lawmakers, aviation exec lukewarm to ‘open skies’

MANILA, Philippines—Lawmakers are supporting Philippine Airlines’ opposition to the open skies policy that the Aquino administration is pursuing in order to increase tourist arrivals.

At a House transportation committee hearing Wednesday on several pending bills to open up the country’s aviation, PAL officials said it would only support a “fair and reciprocal” policy to open Philippine skies to foreign carriers, a sentiment that some committee members said they shared.

According to Ma. Socorro Gonzaga, PAL assistant vice president for external affairs, the number of airline seats was not the reason behind the lack of tourist interest in the Philippines, “but the country’s negative image abroad, especially in the area of peace and order and security.”

Mr. Aquino announced the open skies policy at the opening of the public-private partnerships and infrastructure conference last month.

He told foreign and local business leaders that his government would pursue the full implementation of EO 219 (the liberalization of air travel industry) in international aviation.

The Department of Tourism is targeting to attract 3.1 million tourists this year, progressively increasing to six million by 2016.

Mr. Aquino said the liberalization would be done gradually, starting with “what is called pocket open skies.”

However, PAL and House members at the hearing seemed lukewarm even to a partial open skies policy.

An official of the Civil Aeronautics Board told the hearing that open skies does not ensure more passengers.

Porvenir Porciuncula, CAB deputy executive director, said many foreign airlines have numerous seat entitlements, but are not actually flying to secondary gateways or key cities outside of Metro Manila like Davao, Cebu or Cagayan.

“It is really a function of the market. Open skies will not guarantee foreign airline flights to the country. The more urgent thing is to address infrastructure, facilities, the image of country abroad,” he said.

A representative of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said that while the country remained in the aviation blacklists, any law that would open up the country’s skies would be toothless because of lingering safety concerns at the airports.

This prompted some lawmakers to raise the possibility of shelving the bills calling for open skies.

Gonzaga also claimed that foreign carriers already enjoyed adequate access to Philippine skies.

She said there are at present 47.4 million seats available to foreign and local carriers, but only 10.97 million seats, or 23 percent, were used last year.

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