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How to beat competition

TAIPEI — According to official government records, there are more than 100,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwan. Of this total, AirAsia Philippines chief executive officer (CEO) Maan Hontiveros noted up to 35 percent of these OFWs in Taiwan come from the Northern and Central Luzon areas. This is why, Hontiveros said, AirAsia’s hub at Clark International Airport in Angeles City, Pampanga, is strategically located to serve this huge market of budget travelers in this part of the country.

Many of our OFWs all over Taiwan are employed in electronics companies and are very well paid. With Clark-Taipei as the latest route aside from Clark-Hong Kong and Clark-Singapore, Hontiveros said AirAsia would meet the low-cost fare and connectivity to their families desired by our OFWs in this region while also providing budget fare options for Filipino tourists and for those who travel for business.

Taiwan, on the other hand, is the fifth largest source of tourists going to the Philippines. This is according to Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) Representative Raymund Wang who was invited to join the inaugural Clark-Taipei flight of AirAsia. From January to October this year, he disclosed, there were about 180,000 Taiwanese tourists who visited the Philippines.

This is not to mention, he said, the impact of this new route of AirAsia to serve the travel needs of many Taiwanese companies operating in the Philippines, specifically the “locators” in Clark Freeport at Angeles City, Pampanga and Subic Freeport in Olongapo City, Zambales. There are currently 57 Taiwanese “locators” operating at the Clark Freeport and not less than ten Taiwanese companies at Subic Freeport. 

AirAsia Philippines is also one of the “locators” at the Clark Freeport. AirAsia Inc. is a 60-40 venture between Filipino businessmen, presidential cousin Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Michael Romero and Hontiveros with Malaysia’s AirAsia International Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Air Asia Berhad run and owned by Malaysian business tycoon Tony Fernandes.

The TECO chief revealed another international airline would fly soon from Taipei direct to Subic International Airport. He, however, refused to give details until the final agreement is signed by the respective parties probably early next year.

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In the case of AirAsia Philippines, Hontiveros disclosed their company is also set to open Clark to Bangkok flight route by April next year plus two more domestic flights. At present AirAsia operates the Clark to Davao and Clark to Kalibo flights. 

As a “locator,” AirAsia is limited to 70-30 flight operations, which requires them to allocate 70 percent of their routes to international flights and 30 percent to domestic.

Hontiveros explained due to this “locator” status, AirAsia was forced to temporarily suspend its Clark-Puerto Princesa flights to comply with this 70-30 limit. Given such limits as a “locator” at Clark, AirAsia could not accommodate the request of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos for the budget airline to operate flights to and from Laoag International Airport for both domestic and regional routes.

Now that they opened these two latest international flight operations to Clark-Singapore and Clark-Taipei one after the other, she told me, AirAsia will resume by April next year their Clark-Puerto Princesa flight. It is also scheduled by April to open their new domestic flight from Clark to Cebu when the additional units of Airbus A320 planes are delivered, she added. 

Earlier, Airbus and AirAsia jointly announced the contract for the acquisition of 100 units of new Airbus planes scheduled for delivery spread over the period starting 2013 until 2021. “In line with our growth plans, in 2013 through combination of firm Airbus deliveries and leases ­— Malaysia will take delivery of ten aircraft, Thailand-8, Indonesia-9, Thailand-8, Japan-4 and the Philippines-3 aircraft,” Fernandes announced.  

Complementing the expansion plans of budget carriers like Airbus, Clark International Airport Corp. chief Victor Jose Luciano will formally open tomorrow a 24-hour bus service to all Clark passengers in Metro Manila that would ferry them from Trinoma in North Avenue all the way to Clark airport and vice versa. Luciano said passengers will only have to pay P200 one-way in any air-conditioned bus of Victory Liner, Genesis and Philtranco exclusively plying the Clark-Trinoma route.

Under AirAsia’s “low cost, high value flights,” Hontiveros sought to underscore the help they give to the Philippine government’s drive to increase tourist traffic in such prime destinations. “It’s really true, it’s more fun in the Philippines!” Hontiveros enthused.

It was another discovery for me to learn that Air Asia has given some of our registered nurses and nursing graduates better paying if not high-flying career as flight attendants. This has inspired Hontiveros, the highest ranking Filipino woman executive of AirAsia, to cite this in her spiel at the arrival ceremony for the inaugural of their Clark-Taipei flight last Sunday at the Taoyuan International Airport here.

Quite a number of former government nurses are now working as AirAsia flight attendants. I was able to talk with one of them, 24-year-old Sheena Angeles. Clad in red and white AirAsia uniform, she decided to give up her original profession she precisely took in college because she said she was getting a measly P235 a day in wage. Obviously, this is way below the mandated minimum wage level. 

Sheena is one of nine nurses out of 15 Filipino male and female flight attendants who recently passed and were taken to Malaysia for training in AirAsia’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. She is now deployed to her first assignment in the newest Clark-Taipei route of AirAsia as the only carrier offering four times a week services with flights departing Clark at noon and arriving at 2 p.m.

As added pitch to entice potential passengers to take their budget carrier, Hontiveros noted with pride AirAsia does not only have brand new Airbus A320s. Though classified as a budget carrier, she said, AirAsia has also the best trained and experienced pilots and cabin crew “to provide the ultimate comfort.” With flight attendants who are registered nurses, she proudly pointed out, AirAsia guests are in the best hands in case of medical emergency or health needs of their passengers.

Hontiveros noted with disappointment that discrimination against women still happens even during these modern times. She claimed she herself was not spared during the hearing for AirAsia’s certificate of public conveyance and necessity before the Civil Aviation Board a few months ago. She sensed lawyers from rival airlines were obviously trying to test her knowledge of the airline business and tried to insinuate she is just a “dummy” for AirAsia.

They asked how she, as CEO of AirAsia, hires pilots for the airline company. Naturally, she gave a rundown of the high standard of qualifications and basic requirements they look for in pilots, from flight proficiency to safety records, flying hours, results of simulator tests, etc. “But most of all, our pilots must be good-looking,” Hontiveros told her inquisitors. That’s how to beat your competition!


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