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CAB rejects Qatar Airways bid for additional flights

Hits ME airlines’ abuse of ‘sixth freedom’ scheme
By: - Reporter / @daxinq
/ 12:18 AM April 28, 2014

Philippine aviation regulators have rejected an application by Qatar Airways for additional flight entitlements between Doha and Manila, saying the current bilateral market does not yet warrant the opening of new frequencies between both cities.

More importantly, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) showed displeasure at what it believed was the abuse of wealthy Middle Eastern airlines of “sixth freedom” rights under international aviation conventions.

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Under this scheme, Middle Eastern carriers like Qatar Airways sidestep prohibitions against directly flying passengers between two foreign cities by making short connecting stops through their home hub airports. Thus, a carrier like Qatar Airways can claim before Philippine regulators that a Paris-Doha-Manila flight, for example, is actually only a Doha-Manila flight even if the vast majority of passengers who land in Manila are from other cities not covered by air agreements with the Philippines.

“The current operations of Qatar Airways between the Philippines and Qatar is actually way above the demand for air travel between the two countries,” CAB executive director Carmelo Arcilla said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya. “The reason for this  is because Qatar, as with other Gulf carriers, is a sixth freedom hub airline that relies on the carriage of traffic  between city pairs outside of its territory, in the absence of a significant home market.”

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The CAB chief pointed out that, in terms of actual operations, Qatar Airways alone operated more or less 600,000 seats a year to the Philippines even if only 70,000 passengers actually travel between Doha and Manila.

“Another 300,000 passengers, more or less, are carried  by Qatar Airways to and from the Philippines to third countries as sixth freedom traffic, that is, roughly 80 percent of its traffic are bound or originating from third countries (from Europe, Saudi Arabia, US, among others),” Arcilla said.

The CAB chief pointed out that the primary goal of the Philippines’ aviation policy was to promote and develop a vibrant and effective aviation network that efficiently and adequately connected the Philippines to the major trade and tourism markets of the world.

Traffic entitlements between Qatar and the Philippines are set at a maximum of eight flights a week for each side, or a total of 16 between Manila and Doha; 14 flights for each side between Doha and Clark, and 14 flights for each side between Doha and Cebu.

At present, Qatar Airways operates eight flights a week to Manila and seven flights a week to Clark.

The CAB chief pointed out that there was also now a growing backlash from Canada, Germany, France and other Western countries against the growth strategy of the hub carriers from the Middle East. Germany and Canada have since publicly announced their refusal to allow capacity increases to these carriers.

Based on Qatar Airways’ request for additional entitlements, the CAB-led Philippine air panel convened and met thrice before arriving at a consensus that new flights were not warranted at this time.

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“[We] deliberated on the proposal of Qatar for additional frequencies. However, the consensus among the members of the air panel is that the current bilateral market does not justify an expansion of traffic rights at this time,” Arcilla said. “A new round of talks with Qatar will be considered at the proper time.”

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