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DAVAO CITY, April 25 (PIA) -- Airline industry leaders from the Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines (BIMP) urged for collaborative efforts between the private sector and government institutions to fast track and enhance air transport connectivity within the subregion.

During the 1st Equator Asia Air Access Forum and Airline CEOs Summit, executives of Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, MASWings, SEA Air, and Mid-sea Express have expressed their respective concerns in taking on the BIMP routes, specifically infrastructure support, market availability, and cost of doing business.

The airline summit served as a venue for all players and stakeholders of the airline and travel industries to discuss and thresh out strategic recommendations aimed at improving air connectivity within the subregion.

Of the three concerns raised, business cost was considered the most pressing issue, considering that addressing it would require policy interventions.

In the meantime, Transportation and Communications Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla reassured industry players that the Philippines is currently working on improvements to facilitate more flights from the country to other BIMP destinations.

“We need to come up with the right regulations and infrastructure, and we are happy to say that these are already being demonstrated. Infrastructure programs are already being rolled out to improve our air transportation sector,” Lotilla said.

Moreover, Civil Aeronautics Board Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla reported that the country offers 50 percent discount on filing, regulatory, landing, take-off, parking, navigational, and passenger terminal fees to all interested airlines that wish to operate East ASEAN Growth Area (EAGA) routes.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport also proposed for EAGA countries to come up with a flowchart of their respective application processes and streamline best practices that will be identified.

Industry players remain optimistic on achieving better air linkages as MASwings Managing Director Capt. Mohd Nawawi Bin Awang revealed during the summit that the company is looking into reviving the Davao-Manado flights.

“We are looking at the market very closely; we want to ensure sustainability. We do not want to go here for three to five months and then be gone,” Awang said.

The sustainability of such flights has been one of the hurdles of several airline companies that took the BIMP routes, including Bouraq and Sriwijaya Airlines which have stopped flying due to low load factor.

Mid-Sea Express has been flying missionary flights from Davao to Manado for three months now, and will increase flights to twice a week next month.

President Benigno Aquino III along with other BIMP-EAGA leaders discussed strategic thrusts of BIMP-EAGA in the fields of enhanced transport, power and communication, connectivity, and tourism development during the BIMP-EAGA leaders summit held earlier this month.

"We reaffirm our commitment and support to the BIMP-EAGA cooperation initiatives and pledge to step-up our individual and collective actions to more effectively address the hurdles in realizing the BIMP-EAGA vision and goals," said the leaders in a joint statement.

Industry players also encouraged local government institutions to take part in creating more market for BIMP-EAGA routes, promoting their respective cities to neighboring BIMP destinations and vice-versa.

Meanwhile, Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chair and Philippine Signing Minister for BIMP-EAGA said efforts are continuously done at the EAGA level to strengthen implementation of the existing memorandum of understanding (MOU) on air linkages, which aims to foster trade and investments initiatives, as well as tourism.

The MOU is set to be amended by the four countries this July, to include additional designated points such as Bandar Serigawan (Brunei); Balikapan, Makasar, Manado, Potiana, and Takaran (Indonesia) Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Labuan, Miri, Sandakan, Tawau, and Mulu (Malaysia); and Davao, General Santos, Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, and Cagayan de Oro (Philippines).

BIMP-EAGA is an economic cooperation formally created in 1994 covering the entire Brunei Darussalam; 10 provinces in the Indonesian islands of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Irian Jaya; Sabah, Sarawak, and Labuan in Malaysia; and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines.

The ASEAN subgrouping is primarily intended to spur development in the lagging sub-economies of the member countries by boosting intra-EAGA trade, tourism and investments. (NCLM-PIA 13, Caraga/MinDA)

By Nora L. Molde

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