Monday, March 28, 2011

AirAsia chooses Clark as Philippine center

CLARK FREEPORT --- Budget carrier AirAsia Incorporated, the new Philippine-based affiliate of AirAsia Group, has chosen Clark as its center of activities in the country.

The airline, which was formed last December, will base its operations at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA).

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AirAsia officials said they are planning to start operating international flights from the airport in the fourth quarter of this year.

"Our choice of Clark underlines the airline's commitment to developing transportation and tourism hubs outside Manila. This is part of our plan to contribute to the development of the country as a whole. AirAsia Inc. is excited to start contributing to the economy of Clark and the rest of the country by boosting tourism and offering job opportunities to Filipinos," said Marianne B. Hontiveros, chief executive of AirAsia Inc.

Clark is situated 80 kilometers north of Manila and is accessible to 23 million people from the National Capital Region and Central and Northern Luzon. It is also where the airline's sister company, Malaysia-based AirAsia Berhad, has been flying to and from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu since 2005.

"We plan to make Clark the hub for flights to popular destinations including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Korea and Japan. Travel will become much easier and more affordable for tourists and overseas Filipino workers," Hontiveros added.

Hontiveros, Antonio O Cojuangco Jr., and Michael L Romero own 60 percent of AirAsia Inc. in equal partnership. The remaining 40 percent is owned by AirAsia Berhad.

Clark is the 13th regional hub of the AirAsia Group after Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Penang in Malaysia; Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand; and Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan and Bali in Indonesia.

The airline currently operates approximately 90 Airbus A320 aircraft, while its long-haul arm, AirAsia X, has a fleet of 11 Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft.

2. Lacson’s arrival not coordinated with police—PNP

Filed Under: Government, Ping Lacson, Police, Dacer-Corbito murders
MANILA, Philippines—The arrival in Cebu of Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson from Hong Kong on Saturday was not coordinated with the Philippine National Police, police officials said.

Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. said the PNP Aviation Security Group only learned of Lacson’s return in the country from immigration officials who arrived at the Mactan International Airport before noon Saturday.

“There was no coordination between the PNP and Senator Lacson. We had no advance information about his arrival,” Cruz told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone.

“If we knew he was coming, then we would have sent PNP personnel there earlier,” he stressed.

Although Lacson was not covered by any arrest warrant, Cruz said the PNP will “continue to monitor his movement.”

Asked should the PNP check on Lacson’s activities, he replied: “It’s for his own good. Our security arrangement was not just for him, but for everyone.”

Chief Superintendent Ager Ontog, Central Visayas police director, also maintained that police units in Cebu did not have prior knowledge of Lacson’s return.

As to why Lacson chose to land in Cebu and not in Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Ontog said: “He once served as city police director of Cebu City. Maybe he wants to see somebody before he go[es] back to Manila.”

Citing flight records, Cruz said Lacson was supposed to return to Manila from Cebu via Philippine Airlines flight PR 864 at 8 p.m. Saturday.

3. Reciprocity
NO QUESTION about it: As with any industry, the airline business needs competition to improve and grow.

We don’t have to look far for an example. For many years when Philippine Airlines lorded it over the skies as the country’s sole air carrier, it posted profits and basked in the glamour of being “Asia’s first airline” while also generating a legendary reputation for waste, sluggishness, inefficiency, unerring tardiness and pricey fares—all the ills of a smug behemoth enjoying the convenience of a competition-free environment.

But when the country’s skies were opened to new carriers, the environment changed—not only for PAL, but, more importantly, for the riding public, which found itself at the receiving end of more value-for-money services and improved performance from a suddenly invigorated industry, now that companies were forced to compete with each other in a more liberal marketplace. The entry of Cebu Pacific and other budget carriers inaugurated a boon in domestic travel and tourism in the country. PAL would soon lose its status as the country’s largest domestic airline as the Gokongwei-led carrier aggressively innovated the flying experience with bargain prices and a fun, youthful vibe aboard its planes.

Given this instructive experience, it’s easy to embrace the new executive order signed by President Aquino that adopts an “open skies” policy in the country, which would open up the airports of Manila, Clark, Cebu and Davao to greater traffic from foreign airlines. Its proponents say fully liberalizing the country’s aviation industry this way would lead to increased tourism, trade and investment. The Joint Foreign Chambers, for one, came out swinging for the executive order, saying it would not only generate more jobs and revenues, but is also a “giant step toward [the administration’s] goal of doubling annual tourist arrivals to more than six million by 2016.”

Well and good. That is, indeed, an outcome devoutly to be wished. It must be asked, however: How fair is the new policy toward local carriers?

Cebu Pacific and PAL, perhaps understandably given the impact it would have on their bottom line, both have come out with reservations against the “open skies” policy. Their statements have not been a categorical rejection of the policy. What they have asked is an assurance of “reciprocity”—that for every right given to foreign airlines to mount flights to every airport in the country (except the Ninoy Aquino International Airport), a corresponding concession would also be granted them in the airline’s home country. “If the Philippine government puts out the welcome mat for a foreign airline, [we] fully support that, as long as the foreign airline’s government grants Philippine carriers the same opportunity,” said Cebu Pacific. That position is shared by PAL, which also called for “fair, reciprocal” arrangements.

4. Budget carrier chooses Clark for Philippines hub

Asian low-cost carrier AirAsia has chosen Clark as its hub in the Philippines, as the country's aviation links shift further from the country's capital Manila.

The Filipino affiliate of Malaysia-based AirAsia announced March 24 that Clark's Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, some 80 km from Manila, is to become its hub from late this year, likely to significantly boost the airport's already-soaring numbers.

Clark International Airport, which serves the city of Angeles in Pampanga province, is already the base for Philippines-based budget carrier Cebu Pacific and has seen passenger movements grow by about a hundred fold in less than a decade - from just under 8,000 passengers in 2003 to approximately 600,000 in 2009.

Under current ambitious expansion plans, it will handle a million passengers this year and is set to overtake Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport as the country's main hub - under the current development plan, it will be capable of processing 80 million passengers annually by 2025.

AirAsia, the largest low-cost carrier in Asia, said that the choice of Clark as its 13th regional hub underlined its commitment to developing transportation and tourism hubs outside Manila, and that the airport would offer flights to popular destinations including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Korea and Japan.

The decision is likely to provide a boost to the tourism in the Clark Freeport Zone, once the US's largest overseas military installation but now a rapidly-growing destination.

The region is home to several theme parks, holiday resorts, golf courses and the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, which attracts over 100,000 tourists from 25 countries for the annual festival in February.

Neha Jain

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