Aviation sector sees more growth, investments

Growth, safety and development were the key focus of aviation industry stakeholders, experts, and leaders during this year’s National Aviation Summit to meet growing travel demands and bolster the sector’s full recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speakers at the National Aviation Summit (Photo from the ECCP)

According to Yuli Thompson, Area Manager for Southeast Asia International Air Transport Association (IATA), a significant rise in international and domestic travel has been seen since the pandemic began in 2020.

As of June 2023, Philippine passenger traffic trends for international flights reached 75 percent of the 2019 or pre-pandemic levels. Domestic and international travel in the Asia Pacific is expected to recover in 2023 and 2026 respectively.

Yuli said the Asian Pacific region is forecasted to lead traffic growth in the next 20 years.

International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) Director General Kurt Edwards said, “opening the industry and making it more known to people” can be a beneficial strategy to further grow the aviation sector.

As an airline service provider, Cebu Pacific Air Vice President for Customer Service Operations Lei Apostol said it is focusing on “sustaining the appetite” for travel by optimizing a “positive customer experience” to encourage the public to travel, and maintaining a safe environment for passengers.

Apostol explained that there is a need to “eliminate unnecessary complexities and simplify procedures where possible to provide a hassle-free and positive experience for everyone.”

A sensible step-by-step process, effective communication, and information dissemination are vital factors that would contribute to the “ideal passenger experience,” she noted.

“Overcoming industry complexities and challenges while maximizing growth opportunities is achievable by looking at existing technology, keeping the passenger at the heart of what we do, and communicating to our passengers at every step of their journey,” said Apostol.

To implement these guidelines, Apostol said the airline encourages online check-in and acquiring digital boarding passes to prevent long lines and congestion especially during peak hours.

Self-bag drop facilities were also installed in some of the stations for passengers with few or light baggage to skip main counter queues. The soft launch of the kiosk was done at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 with a 97 percent success rate, she shared. 

Cebu Pacific Air has also collaborated with international airport stations in Narita, Fukuoka, Hong Kong and Singapore among others to install Common Use Self-Service (CUSS) kiosks.

The validity of the travel vouchers that are issued by the airline have been extended from 180 days to 18 months due to a large volume of requests from customers. The airline’s travel fund policy has also been revamped wherein travel funds no longer have expiry dates.

“Under the [revised] Heightened Care Policy of Cebu Pacific, we have elevated the mandated provisions we offer during a disruption. These improvements are not just about meeting minimum requirements but about enhancing passenger travel experience through an offering that is generous and relevant to the situation,” said Apostol.

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Cebu Pacific Air Vice President for Customer Service Operations Lei Apostol 

Infrastructure, systems development

Apostol mentioned that the current airport capacity and infrastructure in key cities in the country cannot accommodate the amount of international and domestic travel that is anticipated. 

To cater to these growing demands, Cebu Pacific Air Chief Executive Officer Michael Szucs said there is a need to invest in infrastructure, which entails Philippine airlines carriers to “quadruple” their sizes to accommodate more passengers.

Senator Grace Poe echoed similar sentiments on infrastructure investment to prevent air traffic system glitches that occurred at the NAIA in January this year. She recommended the acquisition of a new Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance or Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM), and hiring third-party maintenance providers for the system.

Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Jaime Bautista said the rehabilitation efforts of NAIA through public-private partnership (PPP) agreements is underway, as well as existing plans to privatize NAIA and develop regional airports such as the Bicol International Airport, Bohol-Panglao International Airport, and Laguindingan Airport to support local tourism.

Bautista said the Civil Aeronautics Board has determined that the Philippine aviation sector is ready for strategic investments in airport development and operation; maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), and PPPs.

“Airport networks provide a never-ending challenge to adapt and upscale our standards. We should respond with precision and efficiency to sustain passenger safety and comfort,” said Bautista.

DOTr, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are also eyeing the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF by 2025, he added.

DOTr Undersecretary for Aviation and Airports Roberto Lim said the agency is focusing on honing aviation workers through strengthening learning institutions like the Civil Aviation Training Center, and collaborating with the private sector for Air Transport Skills Training and Development.

“If we are able to train our air traffic controllers, we would not only meet our own requirements, but the requirements of other countries. We can develop this on an institutional basis,” said Lim.

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Senator Grace Poe

Workforce safety

Capt. Manuel Antonio Tamayo, director general of CAAP, discussed the agency’s initiatives in advancing safety capacities through the State Safety Program (SSP), which uses a ‘risk-based approach to regulations, capacity building, and integration of a new organizational structure for monitoring and evaluation.”

In addition, Tamayo mentioned that the Head Office of the CAAP is in the process of being certified for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2015. The Iloilo International Airport and Panglao International Airport will also receive their ISO 14001 certifications on Environmental Management System (EMS).

On the side of the government, Senator Grace Poe said she has filed Senate Bill 1121 that intends to create a Philippine Transportation Safety Board, which will highlight workforce safety in the sector, supported by the ECCP and AsBAA.

"It is my hope that the government, the private sector, and other stakeholders can work together and collaborate on air transport projects which will not only generate economic growth, but also provide our people with excellent and affordable public services that can improve the quality of life for all,” said Poe.

The summit, organized by the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) in partnership with the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) and the DOTr, gathered over 400 representatives from the public and private sectors, European and Asian aviation industry experts, officials, businesses, and organizations to discuss the current state of the aviation industry and address lingering issues.  

Among the other speakers at the summit were Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco; Tamayo of CAAP; Julius G. Neri, Jr., General Manager of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA); Hon. Bryan Andersen Co, Senior Assistant General Manager and Officer-in-Charge of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA); Capt. Edgardo Diaz, CAAP Deputy Director General for Operations; and Richard Gordon, Chairman and CEO of the Philippine Red Cross.