Sunday, 17 January 2010

Tourism seeks early open-skies in Manila

by Roderick T. dela Cruz
Manila Standard

THE Philippines is ready for an open-skies agreement that it will sign in April with other members of the Asean, the Tourism Department said Friday.

“Discussions on this agreement among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries could finally lead to the signing of the policy around April 2010,” the department said.

Open skies refers to the liberalization of air space between member countries, including the lifting of tariffs and other add-on costs.

Asean, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Asean open-skies agreement is set to be signed by Asean transport ministers during their next meeting in April, although limited open-skies agreements have already been ratified within sub-groups such as that of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam; and that of Singapore, Brunei and Thailand.

Outside the bloc, Singapore has already signed several open-skies agreements with other countries outside the Asean, while Malaysia is promoting itself as a hub for low-cost carriers in Asia.

The liberalization of air services was a part of Asean’s vision to establish an Asean Community by 2015. Member-countries started talks on the Asean open-skies framework as early as 2003, which includes phased plans for liberalizing intra-Asean freight and passenger air services by 2015.

The April meeting among Asean transport ministers is expected to result in the opening of the capital cities of the signatories to regional carriers by 2010, before all airports in the region are covered by open skies by 2015.

Under the open-skies schedule, regional air carriers will be allowed to make unlimited flights in the group’s 10 capital cities.

For the Philippines, that would draw more airlines to land in the country, increasing flights and providing more options for passengers, the Tourism Department said.

“We are taking positive steps towards the signing of the agreement, as the benefits of air space liberalization for the country signal a region-wide increase in cooperation and tourism,” Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said.

“Our country is prepared to welcome more tourists from the Asean region, and this is only the beginning of an even more vibrant tourism and economic relations with each other.”

Industry analysts are convinced the deal will boost regional tourism, trade, and aviation-related investments.

“The sealing of this deal strengthens not only tourism but [also] economic relations between the country and our Asean counterparts,’’ Durano said.

“We see this as a welcome development contributing to the growth of the airline industry through increased availability for more passengers.”

Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions Eduardo Jarque Jr. said other Asean members had already seen the benefits of the open-skies agreement.

“We hope to replicate the same success here,” he said.

He noted that Malaysia decided to support a further restructuring of its domestic air services, including support for their local carriers. This resulted in “a veritable explosion” of new low-cost carriers across the region, he said.

Singapore now has the most liberalized aviation sector in the region, which contributes as much as 9.2 percent to the island state’s gross domestic product.

In 2004 Singapore signed Asean’s only open-skies agreement with Brunei and Thailand, which allowed unlimited flights among the three countries. These examples showed that other Asean countries could achieve similar growth, Jarque said.

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