Open skies, but what about the airports?

By Marifi Jara

IN the middle of March this year, PNoy signed Executive Orders 28 and 29.

Number 28 reorganizes the Philippine Air Negotiating and Philippine Consultation Panels, which would be handling talks for new Air Service Agreements (ASAs) for the country.

New ASAs are expected because the other order, number 29, sets out an open skies policy, something that has loooong been in the government’s drawing board.

Under this open skies policy, foreign airlines are now encouraged to introduce flights in other parts of the country.

The intent is “to promote domestic tourism by providing travellers more and varied choices of access to the Philippines through improved and increased aviation services; promote investment, trade, and employment; to spur competition in the local aviation industry; and to enhance the competitiveness of Philippine domestic carriers…”

Sounds really good, especially if it means foreign airlines would be skipping NAIA 1 in Manila, which has recently been voted online by travellers as the fifth worst airport in the world and the number one most awful in Asia.

The bad rating was based on, among other complaints, “safety concerns, lack of comfortable seating, rude staff, hostile security, poor facilities, no (or few) services to pass the time, bribery and general hassles of being in the airport.”

One concrete hassle I can cite, which happened just a couple of weeks ago when we came home, is not having enough luggage carts available for passengers who arrived on just three different flights. Some travellers got quite nasty fighting over carts that were being brought back in from the parking area. I would not have been surprised if a small riot broke out had there been more people, weary from a journey, arriving on a fourth flight.

Now we have to ask: how ready are our airports in other parts of the country to handle more airplanes and more people arriving and departing?

Hopefully, as our negotiators work out the ASAs, parallel efforts are being undertaken to get the logistics and manpower ready at the airports. Otherwise, what foreign airline is going to take the open skies bait? Who would be enticed to take those new flights to make them commercially viable?

When the planned international airport in Alaminos gets off the ground, this new open skies policy is a ticket to bigger prospects. It provides the opportunity to welcome not just the existing local companies but also the foreign carriers.

Will the airport be able to capitalize on this chance? Could Pangasinan position itself to be a hub for people travelling in and out of northern Luzon?

Construction has yet to begin for the airport in Alaminos so we still have to wait several years to see.

One thing is certain though. Alaminos will be needing a lot of help. The rest of the province will have to take part in the venture. Having an international airport and operating it cost-effectively and efficiently will take more than a village. There are lots of details to take care of, like a sensible forecast for an adequate number of carts.

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