06 January 2011

Subic banks on ‘open skies’ to revive airport business

Business leaders in this freeport are banking on the reportedly impending "pocket open skies" policy -- which will further ease restrictions on foreign airlines in select international airports outside Metro Manila -- to help boost growth, starting with foreign visitor arrivals here.

Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr. said that a new executive order will "probably" be issued, providing such policy for secondary gateways.

These are international airports outside Metro Manila equipped with Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security facilities.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines lists nine such airports outside Metro Manila, namely: Laoag International Airport in Ilocos Norte, Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, Puerto Princesa International Airport in Palawan, Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA), Kalibo International Airport in Aklan, Mactan International Airport in Cebu, as well as Davao, General Santos and Zamboanga international airports in Mindanao.

Officials said the policy will enable foreign airlines to apply directly with the Civil Aeronautics Board to increase their flights without having to go through bilateral government-to-government air service talks. But they will still not be allowed to bring passengers from one point to another in the country.

Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC) President Danny J. Piano said in a recent letter to Malacañang that SBIA would need such a policy to revive business.

Mr. Piano explained that since Federal Express transferred its overnight delivery hub from this freeport to China almost two years ago, SBIA had become underutilized and almost dormant.

"Even while the SBFCC formed the Subic Airport Revival Committee and collaborated with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and many other organizations, our progress has been slow partly because of limited rights of budget carriers," Mr. Piano said in his letter.

"By providing for a more liberalized air space, we would undoubtedly reinvigorate the SBIA faster," he added.

"Liberalizing our air space will enhance access to Subic Bay and surrounding destinations. We are a freeport, after all."

Subic Bay Gateway Park (SBGP) Senior Manager Roland P. Addun said in a phone interview that the policy should encourage foreign budget carriers like Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia Berhad to use this freeport as a hub.

SBGP, a 300-hectare industrial park, now hosts 500 sublessees and 150 direct locators, including some Taiwanese export firms.

AirAsia Philippines, Inc. said during its launch last month that it will start commercial flights in the country, using either Clark or Subic as its base.

"It would be a welcome development for all of us if AirAsia would consider Subic as soon as it has been entitled to pocket open skies policy," Mr. Addun said.

Mr. Addun said reports that businessman Antonio "Tony Boy" O. Cojuangco, who had led local investors in partnering with AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes to put up AirAsia Philippines, is firming up investments in various facilities here "all...point to Subic as the next hub of AirAsia after the granting [sic] of pocket open skies policy." (RMG, BusinessWorld)