The country’s carriers – Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific (CEB) and Air Asia Philippines, suffered a 94 per cent plunge in passenger numbers in the second quarter of a pandemic-ravaged year, according to latest figures from their umbrella organization, the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP).
In the same period in 2019, the triumvirate carried a total of 13.5 million passengers.
However, with quarantine restrictions in effect – after a two-month total shutdown of operations from April to May, 2020, they only managed to carry 800,000 passengers this second quarter.
The three airline’s half year total passenger count even fell below the usual passenger count for just one airline in a single month.
Before the pandemic, CEB used to fly over a million passengers per month, for example.
At present, after state transport authorities allowed the carriers to restart operations for the past 61 days, the industry remains plagued with uncertainties.
With no standard rules and regulations in place, with different Local Government Units ( LGUs) imposing different documents and restrictions that can change anytime, the carriers have no choice but to wing it on a daily basis.
Worried about importing COVID-19 infection from the National Capital Region, the LGUs outside the metropolis insist on passengers taking swab tests 72 hours before their flight and presenting negative results when they board the aircraft.
However, it usually takes two days to one week to get the swab results, making it difficult for passengers to comply with the requirement.
Some LGUs require the airlines to submit their manifests ahead of the flight, with the LGUs approving who gets to fly.
The LGUs will usually deny passengers who are not residents of the place.
But this is bad for the denied passengers as well as the airlines, both of whom will not know of the
denial to board until the last minute.
Still, other LGUs will restrict the actual number of passengers who can get into the flight.
The LGUs will order the airline that it can only fly at 50 per cent capacity.
And aside from being just half-full, the airline cannot take passengers who are resident of neighboring provinces. They can only take in the residents of the LGU in their arrival destination.
“It is quite a challenge,” executives of domestic carriers acknowledged. “A very tough one, indeed.”
Add to that, the airlines do not even know what the demand is when they begin flying city pairs again.
They cannot even ascertain if there is some demand. So, they are forced to play it by ear.
If they see enough passengers flying a city pair, they increase the frequency of their service, from once a week to twice a week.
If not, they reduce their frequency or scrap the service altogether.
But the fact that frequencies are limited does not make it any easier.
“It is a struggle because of the requirements, which are not standardized, and the limited freqiencies,” according to ACAP members.
Right now, the 3 local airlines are only allowed one flight per carrier.
It was meant to be in the interest of fairness, but the effect remains to be disproportionate. “We are trying to strike an impossible balance,” they lamented.