After five years, the European Commission has finally allowed all Philippine carriers to enter European airspace again. The smaller airlines can now join flag carrier Philippine Airlines and budget carrier Cebu Air Inc., operator of Cebu Pacific, in flying to Europe after the Philippines was taken out of the European Union Air Safety List following a review conducted last April.
The ban was imposed in 2010 after the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines failed to implement reforms in the aviation system as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Philippine tourism took a hit, as insurers refused to cover European travelers going to the Philippines.
As the country’s carriers were barred from European airspace, foreign carriers scrapped their direct flights to the Philippines because of what they described as onerous taxes and fees. In early 2012, the last holdout, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, ended its 14-hour direct Manila-Amsterdam flight.
With the travel industry raising a howl, President Aquino enacted a law in 2013 exempting foreign airlines from the common carrier tax. Now, with the lifting of the European ban on Philippine carriers, the government must work double-time to lure travelers from a region that is one of the biggest sources of tourists.
Europeans account for a hefty chunk of tourist arrivals in other Southeast Asian countries. In 2013, Thailand received 26.5 million visitors, making that country the 10th top tourist destination in the world. Malaysia got 25.7 million visitors in the same year, while tiny Singapore had 11 million. Indonesia received 8.8 million visitors and Vietnam 7.5 million. Even Cambodia may soon overtake the Philippines. Last year, Cambodia received 4.5 million visitors, just slightly behind the Philippines’ 4.8 million.
Among the biggest reasons for those figures is our neighbors’ better air connectivity with the world. The Philippines must also exert extra effort to lure European travelers because it is far from the main country grouping of Southeast Asia.
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More direct flights will stimulate trade. It will also benefit the millions of Filipinos who are working in Europe as well as the seafarers who transit for a few weeks or months while waiting for their ships to leave port.
It has been a difficult path to the lifting of the EU ban. The Philippines must ensure that the country stays out of the ban and gets the full benefits from improved air access to Europe.