Mactan airport champion neededBy Fernando Fajardo
Cebu Daily News
Last month, House Bill No. 6022 was approved on third and final reading by the Lower House. The Board of Airline Representatives (BAR), whose members include 30 air carriers that serve the Philippines, welcomed the approval.
The bill, which has Rep. Jerry I. Treñas of Iloilo City as the major sponsor, seeks to rationalize the airline tax regime in the Philippines by removing the 3 percent common carriers tax. This tax is believed to be the major reason behind the slow development in international air connectivity of the Philippines. Also included in the Lower House-approved bill is the removal of the 2.5 percent gross Philippine billings based on reciprocity.
A counterpart measure was filed at the Senate by Sen. Ralph G. Recto, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee. After the public hearing conducted last February, a substitute bill may be filed once the committee receives the comments of the Department of Finance.
BAR First Vice Chair Steven Crowdey said that they support the tourism agenda of President Benigno Aquino III to promote inclusive growth and hoped that the bill will be certified urgent by the Office of the President and passed under the current 15th Congress. For a decade now, the BAR had been advocating changes in Philippine government policy that affected negatively the operation of foreign airlines in the country. It is hoped that the change in policy direction will finally happen under the present administration to signal that the Philippines is truly open to global airline business and investments.
Cees Ursem, regional manager for KLM in the Philippines and the Far East, also welcomed this new development and looks forward to the final implementation of abolishing these taxes for the benefit of tourism, trade and the network of overseas Filipinos. KLM, the lone European carrier with online operations, terminated its direct flights in March 2012 due to the negative impact of taxes which made the Philippines the most expensive destination for international airlines in the region.
Accordingly, there is a strong demand for capacity but under the current policy regimes airlines with extensive global networks have either left the Philippines or shifted capacity which benefited our neighbors’ tourism and trade. The final approval of the bill by both houses is seen to benefit the domestic and regional networks of Philippine carriers and contribute to generating business opportunities for Filipinos in tourism, aviation and allied services.
So far, good but what is this latest news of the government ordering local airlines to cut their flights out of Manila by as much as 30 percent? The order was contained in a directive that was aimed at easing congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), the country’s premiere international airport. The order did not touch at all the private jets and “fish run” operators, which supposedly take up about 18 percent of Naia’s capacity.
According to Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas, the airlines, knowing the flight limitations of the Naia runway and realizing that their scheduled flights exceed the runway safety limits, have voluntarily hired and subjected themselves to a common independent flight scheduler. Roxas said the independent company removed many peak-hour flights and moved these to off-peak hours. But if many peak-hours flights could be moved to off-peak hours, why the order to cut by 30 percent the flights of local airlines from Naia?
Not a few are having headaches with this order. For one, Alfredo Herrera, vice president for marketing of Zest Airways, said the move was ill-advised. He proposed instead that general aviation be moved out of Naia. He said that general aviation, which at Naia mostly involved private jet owners and operators of fish runs which bring in fresh fish from around the country, could be relocated to Sangley Point across Manila Bay. According to him, asking airlines to cut their flights was a classic example of the government looking out for the interests of the few at the expense of the many.
Going forward, more flights from abroad can be expected to come to Naia based on P-Noy’s serious plan to promote tourism in the country. The more international flights there are at Naia, the more local connecting flights will be needed. How is the order to cut domestic flights from Naia coherent with the country’s tourism promotion policy?
To decongest Manila, there is also a move to transfer eventually the main gateway of the country at Naia to Clark in Pampanga. This means putting in more money to develop further the airport facilities at Clark and the needed infrastructure to provide a new and faster links between Metro Manila and Clark. For people in the north, especially for their tourism, that may be good but what does it mean for those in the south?
The more sensible way is to develop on equal terms as Clark the facilities at Mactan Cebu International Airport, including the much needed direct link between Mactan Island and Cebu City that would bypass crowded areas in Mandaue City. Who is championing this for Cebu?
More from this Column:
- Cebu and Apec 2015
- Birth of the first Philippine Republic
- Journey through Cebu, 1907
- Next year’s growth forecast