Philippine Airlines to Carry Pope Francis in January, Travel Disruptions Expected

As Philippine officials continue to prepare for the arrival of Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and the head of state for the Vatican, Philippine Airlines will be making special preparations to welcome the popular church leader aboard one of its own aircraft when the Pontiff travels from Manila to Tacloban in January.

pope francis philippines
Image Source: New York Post
When the Pope travels, it is customary for the Pope to fly out on a chartered Alitalia aircraft to the destination country. However, the Pope usually is flown back to Rome by an aircraft belonging to the host nation's flag carrier, though some exceptions may apply. In this case, that carrier would be Philippine Airlines. This is not the first time that Philippine Airlines has had the honour of carrying the Holy Father. PAL was the papal carrier for Pope John Paul II during his visits to the Philippines in 1981 and 1995.

pope francis philippines
Image Source: CNTV
The Pope's flight is often referred to as "Shepherd One" by the media, a term that was inspired by the name of the aircraft that carries the President of the United States, "Air Force One." It was coined by the US media during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the US in 2008. In Italy, the call sign of the Pope's aircraft is "volo papale," which in English, translates literally as "Papal Flight." Although not mandated by the Vatican, some carriers have only permitted male cabin crew to serve the Pope on past flights. 

pope francis philippines
Image Source: Edit International
Depending on the type of aircraft used, the first three or four rows of seats are usually in First Class configuration, where the Pope and his closest Cardinals will sit. The rest of the cabin is used for the Pope's entourage and travelling media. However, Pope Francis has also been known to surprise guests in the rear of the cabin. 

pope francis philippines
Image Source: ABC News
Pope Francis is expected to travel from Manila to Tacloban aboard a Philippine Airlines Airbus A320 aircraft. It remains unclear if PAL will be making any special arrangements or configurations for the Pontiff. Given Pope Francis' preference for simplicity, if any re-configurations are made, it will likely be done sparingly. 

pope francis philippines
Image Source: Wikimedia
In the past, air carriers have gone to great lengths to service the Pope. In 2001, Air Malta reconfigured one of its A320 aircraft to transport Pope John Paul II. As part of the special configuration, a Papal Suite was installed at the front of the aircraft, with a private mid-cabin for church prelates and dignitaries accompanying the Pope. The rear of the aircraft was left for media covering the Pope's trip. Custom headrests were also installed on all seats with the Papal emblem, while a commemorative brochure and souvenir was prepared and distributed to each passenger on the flight including the Pope himself.

When the Pope returns to Rome, he traditionally lands at Ciampino Airport, where the Italian Air Force VIP Transport Squadron is based. From there, a helicopter usually flies the Pope to Vatican City. With the exception of the Pope's domestic flights within the Philippines, it has not yet been revealed whether Philippine Airlines will be flying the Pontiff back to Rome or what aircraft will be used. 

Travel Disruptions in Tacloban and Manila Expected

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines is making preparations for the Pope's visit including the designation of "No Fly Zones" and the closure of airports. According to CAAP Operations Chief Rodante Hoya, the airports in Manila and Tacloban, which will be used by Pope Francis during his visit from January 15 to 19, 2015, may be declared "no fly zones."

If the move is approved, the Tacloban Airport will be closed to all other flights on January 15 at least five hours prior to the Pope's expected arrival. "CAAP will implement the safe procedures during the time of the Pope's activities," said Hoya. He added that no aircraft will be permitted during the Pope's visit in certain areas and distance must also be observed. "We will also inform airlines flying Manila-Tacloban-Manila to suspend their operations on January 17. The airlines must not issue tickets in and out of Tacloban on the said date."

pope francis philippines
Image Source: Merco Press
Pope Francis is set to arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on January 15 aboard a chartered Alitalia aircraft. It will be towed toward Villamor Airbase for a welcome ceremony. On January 17, the Pope will board a Philippine Airlines A320 aircraft and depart for Tacloban. "Definitely there will be diversion of international and domestic flights when Pope Francis arrives," added Hoya.

Roads to NAIA Terminal 3 and 4 Expected to Shut Down

The Manila International Airport Authority is also making preparations. According to General Manager Jose Angel Honrado, Terminals 3 and 4 will be completely isolated during the planned five-hour closure of roads leading to Villamor Air Base, where the Pope will land and depart on January 15 and 19. This means that Terminals 3 and 4 were be closed to arriving flights due to the closure of roads.

The runways at Ninoy Aquino International Airport will be closed to all flights five hours before the expected arrival and five hours after departure. However, the hub will remain operating for departing flights during the Pope's transit. “We are not closing the airport just because of the Pope’s visit. We are limiting operations due to the closure of roads around Terminal 3 and 4,” said Honrado. "Due to these plans, we are advising departing passengers to come to the airport hours before the roads close or they can proceed to the designated staging areas where shuttle service will be provided to transport them to Terminal 3 or 4 via the side roads."

Honrado noted that the staging areas would be set up at Nayong Filipino and Terminal 1 Parking Area B. Unlike passengers travelling through Terminals 3 and 4, passengers at Terminals 1 and 2 will still be able to access their designated terminal, which will remain partially accessible through the Bicutan-Sucat Road network. 

Meanwhile, the Manila International Airport Authority has left it up to the respective airlines as to whether to cancel, divert, or delay arriving flights coinciding with the impending road closures. Pope Francis is expected to land in Manila at 5:45pm on January 15. He will depart from the Philippines for Rome at 9:45am on January 19.

pope francis philippines
Image Source: Getty Images
It is believed that both the airlines and airports stand to lose revenue during this period of closure. At least five international carriers fly out of NAIA Terminal 3 and are likely to lose revenue due to the diversion, cancellation, or delay of flights. The airport authority will need to forgo landing fees and terminal charges. However, Honrado would not comment on a possible estimate for the amount of losses, stemming from the event.

No-Fly Zones in Areas Visited by the Pope

In addition to the shut down of Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban on January 17, a no-fly zone policy will be implemented in areas visited by the Pope. "We will establish flight restrictions over the duration of his visit," said Joya. "We will give him priority befitting his status." A no fly-zone of two nautical miles and a height of 18,000 feet "from the point of engagement" is expected to be implemented during the Pope's visit. CAAP officials say that this is to ensure that the Pope is safe from any threat. The move follows a similar security protocol that was implemented during the visit of US President Barack Obama. But unlike President Obama, the Pope is expected to be followed by a huge swarm of crowds with every movement. 

The No-Fly Zone policy will cover cargo, commercial, and general aviation flights, radio-controlled aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and flight training. The only exemptions may be granted to news organizations covering the Papal visit. 

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority is trying to speed up the rehabilitation of the runway at Tacloban Airport, which can presently only accommodate turbo-prop aircraft. "We still have plenty of time to finish the work ahead of Pope Francis' visit," said Joya. The 2,140 metre long runway at Tacloban Airport was one of the many structures destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. Since then, the runway has been plagued by numerous potholes, prompting aviation regulators to limit operations at the airport while repairs are under way. 

Pope Francis' Philippine Itinerary

As released by the Vatican and published on Rappler, this is the planned itinerary for Pope Francis in the Philippines:

January 15

5:45pm – Arrival in Manila, followed by a motorcade to the Apostolic Nunciature, or the Vatican Embassy, along Taft Avenue

January 16

9:15am – Welcome ceremony in the presidential palace, MalacaƱang, with a courtesy visit to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

10:15am – Meeting with civil authorities and the diplomatic corps, and a speech by Francis; followed by a motorcade to the Manila Cathedral

11:15am – Holy Mass with bishops, priests, and consecrated persons at the Manila Cathedral; followed by a motorcade to the Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City

5:30pm – Meeting with families at the Mall of Asia Arena

January 17

8:15am – Departure for Tacloban City, from the Villamor Air Base

9:30am – Arrival in Tacloban City

10:00am – Concelebrated Mass near the Tacloban airport

12:45pm – Lunch with several Yolanda survivors at the Archbishop's Residence in Palo, Leyte

3:00pm – Blessing of the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, Leyte

3:30pm – Meeting with priests, consecrated persons, seminarians, and families of Yolanda survivors at the Palo Cathedral

5:00pm – Departure for Manila

6:15pm – Arrival in Manila, at the Villamor Air Base

January 18

9:45am – Meeting with leaders of various religions at UST in Manila

10:30am – Meeting with the youth in the sports field of UST, and a speech by Francis; followed by a motorcade to Rizal Park

3:30pm – Concluding Mass at Rizal Park, Manila

January 19

9:45am – Departure ceremony at the presidential pavilion of the Villamor Air Base

10:00am – Departure for Rome


  1. Baka agawin ito ng emirates or qatar airways ang deal.

    1. Singapore Air A380 na lang, mas class pa!

  2. Buti na lang hindi Cebu Pacific ang eroplano ni Pope. Baka maipit siya sa cancelled flights. Malaking kahihiyan!

  3. Host country ang magdadala kay Pope pabalik ng Roma ... it's no other than Philippine Airlines!


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