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Under the new agreement, airlines in the Philippines will be able entitled to an increased number of flights to Israel and permission to use Tel Aviv as a stopover point on the way to Europe. Officials from both countries met to discuss details of the new agreement on November 5 and 6.
According to Carmelo Arcilla, Executive Director of the Civil Aeronautics Board, the new agreement enables designated airlines of each country to operate up to 21 flights per week between Israel and the Philippines.
"We've concluded a new air service agreement with Israel today," said Arcilla. "Under the new agreement, the designated airlines of each country are entitled to a total of 21 flights per week between any points in the Philippines and Israel." He added that three fifth freedom rights were also included as part of the new agreement involving the cities of Mumbai and Madrid. "This means that a Philippine carrier can fly to India, unload and pick up passengers and proceed to Israel, or unload and pick up in Israel and proceed to Madrid," Arcilla said.
The third fifth freedom right negotiated pertained to stopover and co-terminal rights to any third country for any of the 21 weekly flights. "This means that a Philippine carrier can bring passengers to Tel Aviv and proceed to say, Rome, or bring passengers to Tel Aviv, and pick them up again after several days for the onward travel to say, Rome," Arcilla added.
The last time officials from both countries met to sign an air service agreement was in 1951. Philippine Airlines used to operate flights to Israel in the 1950's and 60's. Arcilla noted that the government agency was unable to locate any records of previous entitlements but that it was likely a low number as was the trend in that era.
Israeli diplomats revealed last July that their government was seeking to establish direct flights to Manila in an effort to increase exchanges between the two countries in the areas of trade and tourism. Recent statistics indicate that more Filipinos are travelling to Israel than Israelis headed to the Philippines. In 2012, approximately 13,450 Filipinos visited the Holy Land while only 5,895 Israelis visited the Philippines. Filipinos are entitled to visit Israel visa-free for up to 90 days.
However, Israeli officials believe that the Philippines could prove to be a popular destinations for Israelis especially the younger generation. Many younger Israelis are touring all over Asia seeking cheaper destinations. With all of the beautiful beaches around the country and plenty of shopping and restaurants in Manila, the Philippines is expected to be a good fit for Israeli tourists. Other Asian countries like Thailand have already enjoyed much success receiving nearly 200,000 Israeli tourists each year. There are presently two daily-direct flights between Israel and Thailand.
One of the main challenges for Israeli tourists trying to reach the Philippines has been the need to connect in Hong Kong or Bangkok. But under the new air service agreement, it is hoped that tourists from both nations can soon enjoy a direct flight. It remains unclear which Philippine carrier may be designated to operate service to Israel. However, earlier reports suggest that Israel was interested in inviting Philippine Airlines after the airline was lifted off the European blacklist.
The opportunity to use Israel as a stopover point could prove to be lucrative for Philippine Airlines that has ambitious expansion plans in Europe. If PAL is unable to secure enough traffic flying direct to certain European cities, a stopover in Israel could assist in making future routes sustainable. In addition, the opportunity to pick up passengers in India would give the Philippines renewed access to the Indian market. Philippine Airlines previously operated flights to New Delhi but later cancelled them citing weak demand. While trade between the Philippines and Israel sits at just $200 million. Trade between Israel and India is $5 billion representing a solid opportunity for Philippine Airlines to make a route viable between the three nations. In addition, if Cebu Pacific was to use Tel Aviv as a stopover point as part of its plans to serve Europe, it could comfortably serve all parts of Western Europe given the present limitations of its long-haul fleet.
The Aquino Administration has been actively pursuing the air talks with a number of countries as part of a plan to draw 10 million tourists to the Philippines by 2016. This was the sixth air service agreement signed by the Philippine government this year. Future air talks are expected with Russia and France in the near future.