Airlines counting on local travel to recover from 2020 losses

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — Airlines appealed for stronger local tourism as they find ways to take off from dismal bottom lines.

"It is really inside the Philippines –– domestic aviation for the 100-plus million Filipinos spread over the islands, that can really provide hope for the aviation industry," Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP) executive director Roberto Lim said during the Wednesday hearing of the House Committee on Transportation.

"We should be able to open up domestic tourism. We need the cooperation of the LGUs," he added.

Air passenger traffic plunged by 80% as of end-September, with companies only ferrying 12 million people compared to the 60 million passenger volume in 2019, according to the Civil Aeronautics Board. Airlines also mounted just one-third of the flights they used to offer as of the third quarter of 2020.

"Kahit kahalati siguro, hindi maaabot ng 2020 [It's unlikely for 2020 flights to reach half the flights mounted the previous year]," CAB Air Operating Rights Division chief Eldric Paul Peredo told lawmakers.

READ: The world's safest airlines for 2021 revealed

CAB also reported major losses incurred by the country's three biggest service providers. As of end-September, flag carrier Philippine Airlines suffered a ₱27.92-billion loss, while budget carriers Cebu Pacific and Philippines AirAsia posted losses worth ₱14.69 billion and ₱4.86 billion, respectively.

Limited flights due to quarantine restrictions and the general fear among travelers of getting infected with the coronavirus also ate into airline funding. CAB said PAL and AirAsia saw their equity positions turn negative – sending them in billions of pesos in debt – while Cebu Pacific's capital was nearly halved.

Committee chairman and Samar Representative Edgar Mary Sarmiento said local governments should also offer cheaper COVID-19 tests to entice more people to travel again nearly a year since quarantine rules took effect.

READ: Foreigners told to postpone travel to PH due to possible extension of travel ban

Meanwhile, the airlines assured the public that flying is safe amid the pandemic.

"Inside the aircraft, you have a very clean atmosphere that is similar to an operating room of a hospital," ACAP's Lim said. "You have the fresh air that comes in every three minutes in the cabin while on flight. Statistics show worldwide that transmission of COVID inside the cabin is very, very negligible."

A number of tourist destinations have reopened to travelers, subject to requirements such as travel passes and negative COVID-19 tests, among others.

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