Cancelling Clark

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    “EMIRATES CAN confirm that it is suspending its daily, non-stop service between Clark International Airport and Dubai from 1st May 2014. The decision was made after a review of the airline’s operations to ensure the best utilisation of its aircraft fleet for its overall business objectives.”

    Direct from Doha, Qatar, straight out of a story in Gulf Times bylined Joey Aguilar/Staff Reporter, did I get my first read of the decision of Emirates Airlines to stop operating at the CIA. Joey, if you still recall, was Punto! editor, the fi rst one, before love summoned him to come and live in the gulf state.

    Anyways, what was couched in diplomatese in that statement from the Emirates spokesman was translated in the local press – in all brutal frankness – to low passenger volume, stiff competition and the excise tax on jet fuel for international flights as the reasons for Emirates cancelling out Clark.

    Reasons unquestionably acceptable, were it Asian Spirit or Zest Air or Seair, or even AirAsia Philippines doing the decamping. As indeed, they all did.

    Reasons really incredible, given Emirates’ global stature – “one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, has received more than 500 international awards for excellence and has over nine million members worldwide of Skywards, the airline’s frequent flyer program… flies to 134 destinations in 76 countries and operates 203 wide-bodied Airbus and Boeing aircraft… has orders for an additional 190 aircraft, worth more than USD$71 billion… holds an impressive array of prestigious awards most recently including, the ‘Best Airline Food and Wine’ by Frequent Business Traveler and the highly coveted 2013 ‘World’s Best Airline’ award presented by Skytrax… etcetera” An airline CV that really shocks and awes.

    So that at the press launch of Emirates’ Dubai- Clark-Dubai flight only last October 1, Business Mirror’s Joey Pavia was nearly laughed out of the air-conditioned, carpeted tent at Holiday Inn-Clark’s parking lot when he asked Mohammed Mattar, Emirates divisional senior vice president: “How deep is your pocket? Will you not pull out (of Clark) once your planes fly way below their passenger capacities?”

    No straight answer given as we heard Mr. Mattar tell the story of Emirates’ maiden flight to Mumbai with only fi ve passengers and the low, low pax volume in the succeeding fl ights, only to culminate to the now fully booked, five-timesdaily Dubai-Mumbai flights.

    As it was in Mumbai, so it shall be in Clark, Mr. Mattar so implied. And leaving no space for doubt, sayeth thus: “We are sure that we will do good in Clark after many studies in the market. We are not worried and we will do good here in Clark just like in Manila.”

    Confidence certified by Gigie Baroa, Emirates Philippines country manager: “The renewed and increased economic activity and the positive future of tourism up north of Metro Manila make investors bullish about investing.”

    Bullish as the airline can ever be, with a great percentage of the OFWs scattered all over the Middle East coming from these parts, thus Baroa: “We at Emirates have always seen the need of our kababayans from Northern and
    Central Luzon who have to travel three or more hours just to get to Manila. So we decided to open up a new hub at Clark International Airport.

    Whether they are business savvy individuals or OFWs, they are now assured of the convenience of our flights through our new route.” Low passenger volume now? What happened to Emirates’ “many studies in the market”?

    And while at it, did those studies fail to consider too the excise tax on jet fuel for international flights, another reason given for Emirates getting out of Clark? The (in)validity of that (un)reason is like sieve holding water: Ain’t that excise tax imposed on NAIA-based airlines too?

    A smartass of a pal even advanced some perceived advantage to Emirates over other airlines when it comes to jet fuel: “As Emirates enjoys Dubai’s oil, so its fuel expenses are half of those other airlines, having to pay for gas only in its destination.”

    And with Emirates having the Dubai- Clark-Dubai route all to itself, where’s the stiff competition? From the Ninoy Aquino International Airport? Ain’t happening here given Baroa’s point of “our kababayans from Northern and Central Luzon who have to travel three or more hours just to get to Manila.”

    Baroa, we learned some months back, had ceased connections with Emirates. It should have rung alarm bells at the Clark International Airport Corp. but it did not. Only last February 27, CIAC sent photo releases of its officials led by President-CEO Victor Jose I. Luciano warmly welcoming Emirates new Area Manager Abdallah Alzamani at their corporate offices.

    Absolutely not the slightest inkling of the impending Emirates departure then. No surprise there really, as cluelessness is Luciano’s very defi ning character as overlord of the CIA. In January 2012, Luciano hyped his push for “a new P12-billion budget terminal” with a paean to Tony Fernandes’ airline thus:

    “AirAsia is seen to carry some 800,000 passengers every year and an additional increase of 500,000 each year. AirAsia alone is expecting to have five million passengers out of Clark in the next four years.”

    Four years? In 2013, AirAsia pulled out of Clark to hub at the NAIA. In April 2013, Luciano announced the expansion of the airport terminal to start on May 15 would be completed by September – of the same year – in time for the launch of the Emirates flIghts. Emirates has come and will soon be gone, but the expansion is still ongoing.

    At the launch of Tigerair Phils.’ Clark-Davao- Clark route only last December, Luciano was asked how viable has Clark remained in the wake of AirAsia Phil’s pull-out. His snap-of-thefinger answer: “Take a look at Tigerair.”

    Recently, the water district convention in Davao drew a number of delegates from Central and Northern Luzon to Clark for booking with Tigerair, only to roar in disappointment when they were bused to NAIA and flew from there.

    And Cebu Pacific has since absorbed Tigerair Phils. Wonder now where Luciano will point to look if ever asked how viable has Clark remained in the wake of Emirates’ pull-out. Come to think of it, where the journalist Pavia has prescience – having asked too AirAsia Phils if it was abandoning Clark at the time of its merger with Zest Air – Luciano has only feigned innocence… okay, apparent ignorance, over the workings in the aviation industry.

    And Luciano says he’s an old hand in it, having come from Asiana Airlines!

    There lies irony.

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