Aviation developments big boost for PH tourism

By Annie G. Cuevas

RECENT developments in the air transportation sector bode well for the accelerated growth of the Philippine tourism industry. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration upgraded the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Category 1, meaning that after six years, Philippine carriers can now operate more flights to US destinations.

Accordingly, Philippine Airlines announced three new destinations in the US East Coast – in New York, Chicago and Florida – within the year. The New York flight is expected to start in summer of this year and the Chicago flight by the end of 2014. There is no definite timetable yet for Florida, but the flight is expected to start early next year.

With the upgrading of the country’s aviation safety rating by US authorities, PAL can now finally deploy its Boeing 777 fleet to the United States to operate the routes that the aircraft were originally purchased for. The Boeing 777-300ER fleet will be replacing PAL’s current roster of four ageing Boeing 747-400 aircraft that were purchased in the 1990′s.

The announcement of PAL’s Boeing 777-300ER fleet was made during last week’s launching event at The Reef Restaurant in Long Beach attended by travel agents, tourism officials of the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and media members.

The PAL Boeing 777 will initially begin operating 7 of the airline’s 11 weekly flights between Manila and Los Angeles. The flights began operating on May 3. The Boeing 777 will operate flights PR102 and PR103, while the remaining four weekly flights will be operated with an Airbus A340-300.

“For PAL, definitely we will be able to use our new aircraft from now on going to Los Angeles and San Francisco,” said Ang. “This will mean at least $100 million a year savings on fuel and another $60 million a year on maintenance.” The Boeing 777 aircraft is the flagship aircraft of the PAL fleet boasting lie-flat beds in Business Class and state-of-the-art amenities including on-board wireless internet and personal in-flight entertainment.

Also following the upgrade of NAIA to Category 1, PAL announced 12 new destinations all over the world. The 12 new routes are Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), May 2; Darwin, Brisbane and Perth (Australia), June 1; Guangzhou (China), June 2; Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), October 1; Doha (Qatar) November 1; Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam (Saudi Arabia), December 1; Dubai (United Arab Emirates), November 1 and Basco, Batanes on May 1 (the last two to be operated by PAL Express).

This means the Philippine flag carrier can bring to the Philippines more tourists from these destinations in China, Australia, Malaysia and the Middle East.

At the same time, ground operations of five foreign airlines will be moved to NAIA Terminal 3, whose renovation work will be completed in July. The five airlines are Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, KLM and Delta Airlines. The move will decongest NAIA Terminal 1.

Earlier, the European Union lifted the ban on Cebu Pacific, which would enable the second biggest airline in the country to fly to European capitals and bring in more tourists from that part of the world.

These developments, plus the scheduled start of renovations on the Mactan-Cebu International Airport and other tourism infrastructure projects, are certain to bring in more tourists to the country and to boost optimism in meeting the targeted 10 million foreign arrivals in 2016. The Department of Tourism is on track to meet the target of 6 million tourists this year, registering 884,000 tourist arrivals in the first two months, which are not even peak months for Philippine tourism.

(Ms. Annie Cuevas-Lim is regional director of the Philippine Department of Tourism-Los Angeles Office.)