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Palace sets air talks with European countries

MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino administration has lined up a series of negotiations for air agreements with several countries in Europe after the European Union lifted early this month a ban imposed three years ago preventing airlines from the Philippines from operating in Europe.

Carmelo Arcilla, director of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), said the Philippines is scheduled to hold talks with Italy in early September and France next year.

“We have a confirmed schedule with Italy on September 4 and 5 and with France in January,” he stressed.

Last July 10, EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux announced that the EU has lifted the ban imposed in 2010 that prevented local airlines led by national flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) from flying to European countries.

Ledoux said the European Commission and the Air Safety Committee were encouraged by the actions being undertaken by Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and PAL to address outstanding aviation safety issues.

He said the body would continue to monitor the situation in view of conducting further reviews including other airlines such as budget airline Cebu Pacific.

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In March 2010, the 27-member European Commission imposed a ban on Philippine carriers for the failure of CAAP to reform the country’s civil aviation system.

However, the Philippines got a positive impression at the EU’s Air Safety Committee (ASC) in Belgium during its meeting late last month for a final report as it advances application for selective lifting of the ban on Philippine carriers.

Arcilla said the scheduled talks were set up with the plan of PAL to resume flights to Europe where it operated in almost all major cities until the 1990s.

“The talks are expected to expand the existing traffic rights to Europe to give more room for expanded operations. It will also pave the way for other Philippine carriers to eventually compete in the European market,” he added.

Data showed European tourists who visited the Philippines increased by 10 percent to 349,000 last year even with the absence of direct flights.

Immediately after the lifting of the ban early this month, PAL president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang announced that the airline plans to fly to European countries as early as September or October.

“This welcome development also signals the westward expansion of our international route network as we prepare for the much awaited return of PAL to such popular European destinations as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome and Madrid,” Ang stressed.

He pointed out that PAL could showcase its new fleet as it is in the middle of a massive refleeting program aimed at acquiring 100 brand new aircraft.

“When we fly back to Europe after an absence of 15 years, we can boast of a newer fleet of aircraft and top quality customer service. More than providing Filipinos living and working in Europe with the most direct link to Manila, we hope to bring the best of the Philippines to Europe and the best of Europe to the Philippines,” Ang said.

The Philippines has so far signed four air agreements this year with Macau last June, Brazil last May, and Australia in April.

The Philippine Air Panel is composed of the DOTC, Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), CAB, among others.

The Philippines is looking at holding talks with Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, and Taiwan this year after concluding talks with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Singapore, and South Korea last year.

Under the “pocket-open skies policy” of the Aquino administration, the country concluded four successful air talks in 2011, namely with Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, and Vietnam. It also had inconclusive air talks with Indonesia and Taiwan in 2011.

President Aquino has signed Executive Order 29 authorizing the CAB and the Philippine air panels to pursue more aggressively the international civil aviation liberalization policy.

To boost the country’s competitiveness as a tourism destination and investment location, the government decided to pursue more aggressively a liberalization policy in international aviation through the grant of third, fourth and fifth freedom rights and unrestricted capacities and frequencies to foreign air carriers, among others.

The DOT sees the number of tourists visiting the country to reach 10 million by 2016.

Transportation and aviation officials are also confident that the US Federal Aviation Administration (US-FAA) would also lift the country’s status back to Category 1 after being downgraded to Category 2 in April 2008, which prevented local airlines from mounting additional flights to the US.

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