PH, Japan ink new air deal

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The Philippines and Japan have sealed a new air deal after five years, paving the way for a more than three-fold increase in weekly flights between the two countries, Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) executive director Carmelo Arcilla said Friday.

Following a fresh round of talks in Tokyo, flight frequencies for Philippine and Japanese carriers jumped from 119 flights per week to 400 flights per week, or 80,000 seats, between Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport and Narita International Airport, Japan’s primary air gateway.

While the two countries were unable to sign an open skies agreement, a more liberal policy being pushed by several domestic carriers, the deal signed this week provided “one of the most liberal increases so far,” Arcilla said in a text message.

Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, is considered one of the most protective aviation jurisdictions.

The new deal, which replaces the previous agreement signed in 2008, was deemed necessary as current seat entitlements were almost fully utilized, Arcilla said.

“This is a major breakthrough, especially because Japan is a major and the third biggest tourism market for the Philippines,” he said.

The new agreement also includes flying rights between Naia and Haneda, Tokyo’s second major gateway, involving 14 flights per week. Unlimited traffic between airports was agreed upon  but only for gateways outside Manila in the Philippines and Haneda in Japan, Arcilla said.

So-called fifth freedom rights remained in place, he added.

With the expansion of air rights, carriers like Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air can further grow their presence in Japan and likewise for Japanese carriers, including Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, which fly to the Philippines.

For example, Cebu Pacific, which flies to Osaka, also wants to mount flights to Tokyo and Nagoya.

Newer players, like Tiger Airways Philippines and Philippines Air Asia, are keen on expanding to Japan, their respective officials said in previous interviews.

Even with this strong interest, Arcilla noted that the new entitlements are too large to be fully allocated. Taken on an annual basis, the new deal was equivalent to 4 million seats between the Philippines and Japan.

“A substantial portion will be kept in the pool of entitlements and will be allocated when airlines apply for  more after their allocations are actually operated,” Arcilla said.

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