Philippines Pursues More Air Talks in Asia

With robust demand for air travel in the Philippines and an ambitious tourism goal of achieving ten million tourists by 2016, the Philippine government continues to target several countries to negotiate new air agreements. As the largest source of inbound tourists to the Philippines, South Korea is a huge market for the country and one that the government hopes to continue expanding.

Copyright Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP
Just two years after the last air services agreement was negotiated with South Korea, the Philippines would like to re-open talks to amend the air service agreement once again to facilitate growth in air travel that can meet the rapidly rising demand. With the Philippines now emerging from Category 2 status in the US, South Korea can lift its restriction against the Philippines barring new entrants and new flights. 

"We are going to examine the market," said Carmelo Arcilla, Executive Director of the Civil Aeronautics Board. "It's really vibrant and very, very strong." Department of Tourism statistics revealed that the number of South Korean visitors to the Philippines in 2013 hit 1.17 million, an increase of more than 13 percent over the previous year. 

In the last round of discussions in April 2012, the Philippines and South Korea agreed to raise the number of seat entitlements between the two countries from 19,000 per week to 28,500. Currently, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia Zest are all serving the Korea market. But the South Korean market is not the only Asian country being targeted by the Philippines.

On May 19, Philippines officials will travel to Yangon to discuss an updated air services agreement with Myanmar. It is hoped that a new agreement would boost trade and tourism between the two countries. According to Arcilla, both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific are interested in opening routes to the country. "I think the Myanmar market has potential," said Arcilla.

Air talks with Malaysia were scheduled for the beginning of April. However, authorities in Kuala Lumpur were forced to postpone the meeting due to the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that was bound for Beijing. The government is looking to expand commercial air opportunities and strengthen ties between the Philippines and Malaysia following President Aquino's recent state visit. President Aquino flew to Malaysia to bolster trade opportunities between the two nations seeking out businessmen that might be interested in exploring Philippine investment opportunities in banking, agriculture, and infrastructure. 

The Philippines is also seeking to review air agreements with Macau and Taiwan. However, no meetings have been scheduled yet. Outside of Asia, the Philippine air panel is planning to hold air talks with Canada and Russia. Talks with Canada are scheduled for May 26 and 27 in Manila. Arcilla says that the Canadian market needs further development.  "The market is not thick enough to sustain direct services, but there are opportunities to develop the route," said Arcilla. "If the service is seamless, probably there will be more people travelling between the two countries, and when more people travel, maybe the time would come when direct services could already be sustainable." The last round of air talks between Canada and the Philippines was held in May 2008. 

Talks with Russia will be scheduled for sometime in the third quarter of this year. The Philippines is hoping to strike an agreement for overflight rights giving Philippine carriers a shorter route between the Philippines and Europe. "Russia is a 'designatory' of the International Air Services Transport Agreement (IASTA), which is one of the protocols of the International Civil Aviation Organization," said Arcilla. "If you are a signatory to that, you are obliged to allow over flights, for which you charge fees. But Russia is not a signatory to the IASTA, so they require a certain agreement before an airline can be given over flight rights."

According to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, the Depart of Tourism is targeting at least nine countries for market development including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia, India, and the Middle East. Potential markets in Europe are also being explored including France and Spain.

Last January, the Philippines negotiated a new air services agreement with France. That was followed by a new agreement with New Zealand established in March.  In 2013, the Philippines concluded successful negotiations with Israel, Italy, Japan, Brazil, and Macau. 

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