“Our whole life has been about liberalization and opening up. I think the Philippines should one of the largest countries for tourism in Southeast Asia, but has been restricted (by the lack of a more liberal skies policy),” Air Asia Berhad Group top executive Dato Sri Tony Fernandes said in an interview after his airline’s Airbus 727 landed at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here on Thursday from its base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) president and chief executive officer Victor Jose Luciano said Air Asia is now recognized as the biggest “budget” airlines in Asia. It now has regular 14 weekly flights between Clark and Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu.
Fernandes, a Malaysian, said his group is also now looking into launching regular flights to Thailand and Indonesia.
“We are big believers of Clark. Some are still looking at Manila but we still feel this (Clark) is the right place to be,” he said in an interview with local media.
Fernandes said that if the government liberalizes its policies, Air Asia could even launch long haul flights from Clark to serve the needs of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East and the US.
“It’s cheaper to operate here at Clark,” he said, even as he lauded the leadership of the CIAC for supporting Air Asia. He noted that his first visit to Clark was in 2005 when Air Asia launched its first flight between the airport here and Kuala Lumpur.
Luciano said “the visit of Fernandes is a sure and strong sign of confidence in Clark. He was very happy to see the progress since his first visit five years ago to start the Clark, Kuala Lumpur flights.”
“With Air Asia setting up base in Thailand then Indonesia, the Philippines could be its third overseas base in Clark. That will boost the local economy and the position of Clark as the growth airport of the country,” Luciano added.
Leaders of multi-sectoral groups, including that of overseas Filipino workers (OFW’s) in Central Luzon, expressed “full support” to the proposal of the Aquino administration to finally adopt open skies policy which they want to be total, not just partial, for the benefit of OFW’s, as well as to boost local tourism.
“It’s a long-delayed justice for the hundreds of thousands of OFW’s who would benefit from cheaper and direct flights from the places they work abroad. It is also an act dismantling virtual aviation monopoly that has shackled national interest for so long,” said Ruperto Cruz, chairman of the Pinoy Gumising Ka Movement (PGKM).
His group had pushed for open skies policy at the DMIA way back when former Pres. Ramos issued in 1994 an executive order declaring the airport here as “the future site of the country’s premiere international airport.”
“It is unfortunate that air access to the Philippines is not only inadequate. It is severely limited by an antiquated regulatory policy that seeks to preserve certain advantages for a select few at the expense of those who need to fly,” Cruz said.
The foreign workers recruitment industry, represented by the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME) and its ally, the Center for Strategic Initiatives also expressed support for more liberalized open skies policy.
They complained of shortage of flights to the Middle East, thus resulting in delays in deployment of workers for as long as a month or more.
Even CIAC executives also said “we are one hundred percent behind Pres. Aquino’s call to re-examine national air policies, including its further liberalization to promote growth of domestic and foreign travelers into the country.”