Ease cap on passenger arrivals, Poe asks gov't as airlines bear brunt of pandemic

Senator Grace Poe has asked the national government to consider raising its 2,000 daily passenger cap to help airline companies ride out the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Grace Poe (Office of Sen. Poe)

Poe made the appeal through her proposed Senate Resolution No. 889, which calls on concerned national government agencies to immediately assess the devastating impacts of the coronavirus outbreak to the airline industry and come up with a "comprehensive" long-term plan to support the sector.

The chairperson of Senate Committee on Public Services filed the measure after the Philippine Airlines (PAL) filed for bankrupcy in the United States and is reported as planning to do same in the Philippines.

The filing was part of a restructuring plan to slash over $2 billion off it debts, the flag carrier said.

"The policy imposing a current combined daily arrival cap of 2,000 passengers in Manila airports is killing the airline industry as it is not sufficient to sustain operations given that pre-pandemic arrivals were at 25,000 to 30,000 passengers a day," Poe said in the resolution.

She appealed to the government "seriously consider" easing incoming international passenger caps on fully vaccinated passengers, noting that testing and quarantine protocols are in place.

Likewise, she said capacity issues of quarantine facilities should be "immediately improved" to accommodate the influx of returning overseas Filipino workers and other passengers.

Airlines have been asking the government to increase its daily cap on arriving passengers in Manila.

The same daily cap imposed by the government's pandemic task force has also been causing delays in the repatriation of OFWs, the Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said.

Poe, meanwhile, noted that under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2, P2.6 billion was set aside to assist "critically-hit businesses" in the transport industry, on top of the P30 billion equity infusion to government financial institutions for lending.

She said these could have been used to aid financially-beleaguered airline companies.

"The loans and rehabilitation proceedings of domestic carriers need to be supplemented by more proactive and sustainable government efforts that should be as flexible as the virus which continues to mutate," Poe said.

There should be "a comprehensive roadmap for aviation...to ensure viability of the airline industry as a major pillar for overall economic recovery", she pointed out.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government is already extending relief to PAL.