Monday, December 14, 2009

Philippines and ASEAN countries push ‘open skies’ with China

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines and neighbors in the region are pushing for an “open skies” deal with China to boost trade between Southeast Asia and the world’s third-biggest economy.

Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) Deputy Executive Director Porvenir Porciuncula said aviation officials in the region were in discussions to allow more liberalized air travel between members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.

He said talks on the new deal, which was taken up in several meetings between officials from different countries in Beijing early this month, were in line with the push for a “free trade” area that would allow the region to benefit from China’s booming economy.

“Basically, in the meetings in Beijing, we were able to agree on the draft of opening up of all points in ASEAN and China,” he said.

“The direction is that leaders in the region will have this signed by November or December next year,” Porciuncula said.

The adoption of an open skies regime in the area will make way for increased air travel between China and Southeast Asia. The deal will result in less government regulation in the granting of rights to fly to points within the area.

“We already have a draft that is consistent with the planned ASEAN-China free trade area,” he added.

The free trade area aims to remove trade barriers between the two regions. This will mean lower tariffs on products shipped between China and countries in ASEAN.

China (including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) is currently the Philippines biggest trading partner.

The open skies deal being discussed will involve the granting for third and fourth air rights between China and the ASEAN region.

These rights simply allow airlines to ferry passengers and cargo from their home countries to another and back.

One of the few factors that will be under consideration in an open skies deal is the availability of space or the capability of airports to handle the increase in flights.

Another main issue, according to Porciuncula, was how to deal with the expected increase in air traffic that may lead to airspace congestion in the area as a result of the accord.

Aviation safety regulations in the region also have to be harmonized, he said.

“All the countries expect air traffic to grow substantially because of this deal, so they want some kind of way to determine whether or not the airlines in the region comply with [the safety standards of the different countries],” Porciuncula said.

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