MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines expects a “significant increase” in tourist arrivals from Europe following the decision of the European Union (EU) to lift a ban on Philippine Airlines (PAL) flying on its airspace.
In a statement, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. described the EU’s move as “an excellent opportunity for Philippine tourism.” He said the country’s flag carrier “will be able to effectively augment the existing services by foreign carriers that cater to tourists in the region.”
The United Kingdom, Germany and France are among the key European markets for Philippine tourism. Once the PAL flights are made available, Jimenez said “we … expect a significant increase from these markets, to include those from adjacent countries.
On Wednesday, the European Union allowed PAL and Venezuela’s Conviasa back into European airspace on the grounds of improved safety and compliance with EU regulations. Its executive, the European Commission, removed the two from a blacklist—the EU air safety list—after slapping an operational ban on PAL in 2010 and on Conviasa in 2012.
Jimenez said the lifting of the EU ban would greatly help in achieving the government’s target of 10 million foreign visitors by 2016.
From January to May, a total of 213,598 European tourists visited the Philippines, representing an 8.5-percent increase from the 196,794 tallied for the same period in 2012, according to the DOT.
The department has set targets of 574,565 European tourists this year and nearly 700,000 in 2014.
“As we work toward our goal … by 2016, we need our international air seats and connectivity greatly enhanced, in addition to our ongoing internal development work on infrastructure, destination and facilities,” Jimenez said.
He expressed optimism that other Philippine carriers would address their own safety issues that would allow them to gain access to tourist-rich Europe.
Japan, South Korea
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., chair of the Senate public services committee, said the next goal should be the lifting of the EU ban on other Philippine carriers and the Japanese and South Korean restrictions on Philippine carriers.
“Our work is far from finished. But after five years, it is heartening to see positive results. We must be more aggressive,” Revilla said in a statement. The senator also heads the joint oversight committee on the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
“While there have been no formal responses from both countries (Japan and South Korea) regarding our requests to have the restrictions lifted, they have remained bull-headed and refuse to act. The challenge for the CAAP is to continue the momentum,” he said.
The decision to lift the ban on PAL and Conviasa was an element of the EU’s updated list which now leaves 280 airlines from 20 states still barred from flying in the EU.
“Today, we confirmed our willingness to remove countries and airlines from the list if they show real commitment and the capacity to implement international safety standards in a sustainable manner,” the EU’s Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in Brussels.
Earlier in Manila, EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux said PAL will be allowed to fly into the 28-member bloc from Friday, which will spur tourism and business links.
“This is a tremendous achievement in such a short period of time,” Ledoux said.
He said the European Union would conduct further reviews so that other Philippine carriers could fly to Europe as well.
“This decision is very encouraging and is the first success of the CAAP and Philippine Airlines,” he told reporters.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) will prioritize air talks with countries in Europe following the “selective” lifting of a three-year ban, according to its executive director, Carmelo Arcilla. He noted existing agreements with several key cities in Europe.
So far, the agency has identified Ethiopia, South Africa and Israel as destinations it would have air service discussions with for the year, Arcilla said in a text message. He added that it was looking to start talks with Italy “in the last quarter of the year.”
PAL president Ramon S. Ang said the airline could fly seven times a week to London in the United Kingdom and at least six times a week to Paris in France. It intends to fly nonstop to these destinations “by September or October,” he said.
The company is owned by listed PAL Holdings, which is controlled by San Miguel Corp. and the group of tycoon Lucio Tan. A trading suspension on PAL Holdings will be lifted today after the company complied with the public ownership requirements of the Philippine Stock Exchange.
“Remember that [PAL] used to operate to major EU cities in the 1970s and 1980s. These can be used by EU carriers and local airlines to resume flights between Europe and Philippines,” Arcilla said.
The air panel also intends to negotiate for new and expanded traffic rights to Europe, he said.
The EU announcement was expected, given that the Philippines passed an audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in February.
In 2009, ICAO conducted an audit and found “significant safety concerns.” Its report was used as the main basis for the EU decision to ban all flights from the country beginning March 31, 2010.
Ledoux on Wednesday cited corrective actions undertaken by the CAAP as a reason behind the selective lifting of the ban. Other domestic carriers seeking to fly to Europe can present their case to the EU Air Safety Committee meeting on Nov. 29.
Revilla expressed optimism that the Philippines would soon regain its Category 1 status from the US Federal Aviation Administration following the favorable audit by ICAO in March and the lifting of the EU ban.
Category 1 means the air carriers from an assessed state may initiate or continue service to the United States in a normal manner and take part in reciprocal code-share arrangements with US carriers.
The Philippines remains classified under Category 2, which means that its civil aviation industry does not meet ICAO standards and its air carriers cannot initiate new service and are restricted to current levels of any existing service to the US while corrective actions are underway.
“The ICAO report and the EU ban in 2010 greatly affected the decision of the FAA in not upgrading our Category 2 status. Now that there is a new audit report, and with the EU leading the way in lifting their ban, albeit partially, the FAA may see that we are serious in our efforts toward the global standard,” Revilla said.
Jimenez said the tourism industry was looking forward to the continued support of various government agencies for improvements in airport infrastructure development, aviation safety and security, and air services agreements “so that we can continue to show to the world why it’s more fun in the Philippines.” With reports from Tina G. Santos, Norman Bordadora, Miguel R. Camus and AFP