An African safari may soon be more accessible to Filipino travelers as aviation regulator Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) looks to pursue air service talks with the Republic of South Africa possibly within this year, executive director Carmelo Arcilla said.
Arcilla said local carriers like Philippine Airlines were keen on expanding flights to South Africa, a major economic hub located at the southern tip of the world’s second-biggest continent.
“Africa as a continent is a fast-developing market. Economic activity is growing exponentially,” Arcilla said in a phone interview.
“It is a business hub there and a jump-off point to Africa,” he said.
Arcilla said there was no definite schedule when air talks would begin but the plan was to do it within the year.
Successful negotiations here would allow Philippine carriers to mount direct flights to South Africa.
CAB is also looking to engage Israel to an air service agreement.
The Philippines wants to boost air travel to and from 10 priority countries, including Japan, China, Australia and parts of the Middle East.
South Korea, the United States, China and Japan are the biggest sources of tourists visiting the Philippines.
The goal is linked to the Department of Tourism’s target of drawing 10 million overseas tourists by 2016. The agency said 4.3 million tourists visited the Philippines in 2012.
“All our airlines have expansion programs overseas,” Arcilla said, referring to long-haul routes being eyed by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, which was expanding its fleet with long-range aircraft this year.
The plan includes expanding flights within the United States and to Europe. These plans, however, cannot proceed unless US and European Union (EU) regulators lift restrictions imposed on Philippine carriers.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines is optimistic that these restrictions will be removed this year.
The EU ban has been in place since 2010, a year after the ICAO found “significant safety concerns” in the country’s aviation standards. The Philippines passed the ICAO audit in February.
The Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the Philippines from Category 1 status to Category 2 in 2008, meaning local carriers were not allowed to add new routes to the United States.