Friday, August 20, 2010

Don’t be hasty on "open skies," Philippine government urged

Embattled Philippine Airlines (PAL) warned the Aquino administration against a hasty liberalization of air rights—known as an “open skies” policy—which it said the country’s current infrastructure may not be able to handle.

In a statement, PAL said it welcomed President Benigno Aquino III’s calls for the airline’s management to resolve issues with its workers to avoid a workers’ strike that could cripple the company’s operations.

The President said the other day that if the labor situation at the airline were to result in a disruption of PAL’s services, the government might be forced to let other domestic and even foreign airlines fly its routes.

The government has been studying the possibility of implementing a partial open-skies policy as the dispute between PAL management and labor groups has worsened.

Open skies calls for the liberalization of rules and regulations on international aviation, most especially commercial aviation.

But PAL president and chief operating officer Jaime J. Bautista warned that adopting an open skies regime should be studied more carefully.

Fair open skies

“Let’s make it clear: PAL is not against open skies. We just want it to be fair, reciprocal and its implementation should be phased-in and calibrated,” Bautista said in a statement.

He said the adoption of open skies “should be viewed in the context of available infrastructure,” citing Manila’s congested runways and overburdened terminals.

He also warned that allowing foreign companies to pick up the slack for PAL would give the country a “negative image as a tourist destination.”

The government said an open or partial open skies regime would ensure that in case PAL’s operations are suddenly paralyzed by a strike, there will be other airlines willing to take up the slack.

Mr. Aquino said while the interests of both PAL and its workers are important, the interest of the riding public would still come first.

ASEAN accord

The ASEAN countries earlier signed the Multilateral Agreement on Air Services which allows unlimited capacity or frequencies between capital cities in ASEAN.

The Philippines is a signatory to the ASEAN Multilateral Agreement on Air Services liberalizing aviation services among the 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which was signed last May. But the agreement covers major airports only.

PAL is coping with labor disputes in all parts of its workforce. The company’s 1,600 flight attendants are protesting over a policy that forces them to retire at the age of 40. PAL’s ground crew are opposing a company plan to outsource 2,600 jobs to cut costs. Both groups have threatened to go on strike.

In its statement, PAL said it understood its workers’ demands but that the airline’s capacity to pay and meet those demands must also be taken into consideration.

In a separate statement, the Travel Cooperative of the Philippines (TCP)—a group of small travel agencies—echoed PAL’s warnings, saying that an open skies regime would tarnish the image of PAL and the entire country.

“The government should support PAL and not act like they are operating PAL. It should leave PAL to work with its airline partners and implement its contingency measures in case a strike will happen,” said TCP chair Robert Lim Joseph.

Posted via email from Aviation Professionals dot Org

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