Monday, 9 February 2009

From Subic hub, FedEx flies to Clark

Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer

CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines—Federal Express (FedEx), the world’s largest express transportation company, has not really left the Philippines.

A day after starting the shutdown of its Asia-Pacific hub at the Subic Bay Freeport, FedEx made its inaugural flight into the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) on Friday night to prepare this former American military aviation complex as base for its Philippine operations, which would be linked to its new hub in China, an official said.

The arrival of FedEx’s MD-11 aircraft, which landed at 10:30 p.m. here, came after the American courier giant and Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) signed in October 2008 a memorandum of agreement allowing the firm to “locate and do operations in Clark,” CIAC president and chief executive officer Victor Jose Luciano told the Inquirer on Saturday.

The debut flight, which was done without fanfare, was part of test operations by FedEx, Luciano said.

He said this phase entailed doing technical stops for refueling and crew layover.

“Eventually, these would graduate into cargo operations,” Luciano said.

Two Inquirer sources, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the project, confirmed that FedEx has transferred all its ground equipment from Subic to Clark.

Under the agreement, FedEx will fly twice daily to and from Clark, except on Saturdays, according to one of the sources. The source said the destinations are China and Taiwan.

Luciano said China’s Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou would be the main hub of FedEx in the Asia-Pacific region.

FedEx has yet to issue an official statement on its Clark project.

The technical stop, said Luciano, is a sign that Clark is ideal and viable for FedEx’s freight-handling business.

DMIA used to be the biggest facility of the United States’ 13th Air Force in the Asia-Pacific. The Philippine government took more than a decade to turn it around, enjoying a boom in cargo operations and passenger flights since under the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo, Luciano said.

Test flight

The test flight turned out to be a sentimental journey for the pilot, Capt. Phil John, Luciano said.

“When I met him on the plane, he told me: ‘I’m very happy to land here. The last time I was here was 20 years ago when I was with the US Air Force,’” he said.

John and his crew were received by Luciano, FedEx senior manager for operations Virgilio Mangisel and country manager Samuel David.

Another CIAC official, who asked not to be named because he has no authority to speak on the project, said CIAC and DMIA officials handled the transfer low key to avoid upsetting officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said he had been told of the Clark plan.

“This is to support their Philippine operations, not as a hub. That’s okay because FedEx remains to be in the Philippines,” Arreza said.

In an interview on Friday, Arreza said the government stands to lose P150 million annually from the pullout of FedEx hub in Subic.

The Subic Bay International Airport, home to FedEx for 14 years, is smaller than DMIA, which spans 2,500 hectares. The DMIA has two runways measuring 3.5 km each.

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