New international travel restrictions to further slow airline recovery

AdChoiceTV News — New restrictions on international travel to address the potential spread of the new COVID-19 variant is expected to further slow down the pace of recovery of the airline industry, with local carriers having to depend mostly on the still restricted domestic air travel for survival.

“The ban on over 20 countries to protect against the potential spread of COVID has surely dampened consumer confidence,” Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP) executive director and vice chairman Roberto Lim told AdChoiceTV News.

There are 28 countries to date which are covered by passenger restrictions on flights to the Philippines.

These are Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, United Kingdom, US, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil and Austria.

Local airlines have been slowly reviving their domestic and international networks since travel restrictions eased last year. However, the latest threat of the new COVID-19 variant first detected in the UK could pose as another major threat to airlines’ path to recovery.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) late last year decided to cancel its flights to and from London until end-February in view of tightened restrictions by the UK government.

Both PAL and Cebu Pacific have been proceeding with their scheduled flights to and from the countries covered by the temporary restrictions for Philippine-bound travel, but they only accept Filipino citizens.

“Domestic aviation is within exclusive control of the Philippines and not subject to any cross border requirements. If LGUs will be more open and remove/relax quarantine and travel restrictions, it will help restore confidence to the travelling public and bring up the volume of domestic travel,” Lim said.

“As you can see from the numbers, Philippine domestic passenger traffic remains low. We need a unified and consistent policy from IATF and LGUs after nine months of COVID,” he said.

Aviation think tank CAPA-Center for Aviation said airlines in the Philippines have not benefitted from the same rate of domestic demand recovery as carriers elsewhere in the region.

It said domestic capacity recovery in the country has generally lagged many markets in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Vietnam, China, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and others.

CAPA said systemwide seat capacity in the Philippine market, which includes international and domestic service, was running at 21.8 percent in the week of Dec. 21, compared to the same point in 2019.

For the domestic market alone, it said there has been a trend of gradual recovery, with weekly seat capacity up to 24.3 percent of year-ago levels as of the week of Dec. 21.

CAPA expects leisure and short-haul travel to recover sooner, which it said could benefit budget carrier Cebu Pacific.

Low-cost carrier AirAsia Philippines, for its part, continues its efforts to stimulate air travel through the promotion of safe and affordable air travel following the major setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline yesterday announced its “PISO Sale” offering to further boost domestic travel and entice more travelers. The P1 base fare to selected domestic destinations is available up to Jan. 17 for travel period of up to March 26.

“AirAsia has always been a strong partner of the government in promoting travel and tourism. Aside from this, it is also part of our mission to understand deeply the needs of our guests, so we can give them the best deals to cater for pent up travel demand,” AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricky Isla said.

“We are optimistic that the PISO Sale along with the health and safety protocols implemented by the LGUs will lead to a revitalized tourism industry in 2021,” he said. — via Albert Rovic Tan

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