Cebu Pacific may soon fly to Europe and USA

MANILA, Philippines – Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific may soon mount flights to Europe.

This as the European Union is set to announce the lifting the ban on Cebu Pacific on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday’s press conference will be attended by EU Chargè d’ Affaires Dr. Julian Vassallo, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) director general Lt. Gen. William Hotchkiss III, CAAP deputy director general Capt. John Andrews and Cebu Pacific president Lance Gokongwei.

In January, Cebu Pacific informed the EU’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport in Brussels that it has already complied with the outstanding aviation safety concerns.

The European Commission in March 2010 had imposed a ban on Philippine carriers from entering the European airspace, as the CAAP failed to reform the Philippines’ civil aviation system as mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Last year, Cebu Pacific was excluded when the EU cleared the Philippines after a three-year ban. This was right after a Cebu Pacific plane skidded off the Davao runway, shutting the airport for three days.

That gave Philippine Airlines a head start, as PAL started flights to London in November. PAL is planning to mount flights to Paris and Rome as early as this year.

Both airlines are waiting for the Philippines to be cleared by the US, which barred new flights from the Philippines in 2008. US clearance would allow PAL to add to its flights and Cebu Pacific can start flights.

American aviation authorities cleared Philippine airlines to increase flights to the United States after safety standards improved and the European Union opened its skies to the Southeast Asian country’s main budget carrier.

The U.S. embassy in Manila said Thursday that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s assessment earlier this year found the Philippines now meets international safety standards.

Since January 2008, the FAA had rated the Philippines as falling short of International Civil Aviation Organization standards covering its ability to ensure airline safety. Local carriers were restricted to maintaining existing flights to the U.S. and were barred from establishing new services.

Shares of local airlines rose following the announcement. Officials and tour operators welcomed the upgrade as a boost to tourism and the economy.

“This is good news for the Philippines,” Foreign Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said. “Our flag carriers can now push through with their plans to expand their operations and serve our people in various parts of the United States.”

Philippine Airlines, currently the only local carrier flying to the U.S., said it will deploy a fleet of newly-acquired Boeing 777-300ER aircraft for its long-haul flights to the U.S.

The airline currently operates 26 flights a week to the U.S, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Guam. Chief operating officer Ramon Ang said using the modern jets would save the airline $100 million in fuel a year and lower its maintenance bill by $160 million annually.

Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the U.S decision signals “enhanced tourism and economic activity between the Philippines and the U.S.” She praised Philippine transportation and civil aviation officials for rectifying past lapses.

JP Cabalza, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association, said tour operators are looking at the U.S. as a source of more tourists to the Philippines. Americans comprise the second biggest number of visitors to the country after South Koreans.

In further good news for the Philippine travel industry, European Union and Philippine officials announced Thursday that Cebu Pacific Air, the country’s largest low-cost carrier, has been cleared to fly to Europe.

Cebu Pacific currently has no flights to Europe but the airline’s executives have said they plan to fly European routes. It was barred from flying to Europe because it didn’t fully comply with international safety standards.

Cebu’s chief executive officer Lance Gokongwei said the decision will enable Cebu Pacific “to continue flying to where the Filipinos are.”

He said there are nearly a million Filipinos working in EU countries.