PAL opens flights from Clark to decongest NAIA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Philippine Airlines (PAL) is starting operations in Clark International Airport for the first time beginning Friday.

Officials hope this will decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), as well as allow the flag carrier to offer more flights.

Read: Airport official: Expect more flights from and to Clark airport

PAL will start flights between Clark and Caticlan — the gateway to tourist hotspot Boracay Island — on December 16.

Next year, PAL will expand operations even further with Clark-Cebu flights on January 30, then Clark-Davao and flights from Clark to Incheon, South Korea by February 1.

PAL President Jaime Bautista said this would help the government ease congestion in NAIA and develop secondary hubs across the country.

NAIA has a maximum capacity of 35 million people. But last year saw as much as 37 million people pass through the airport. This has led to long lines in terminals as well as delays in planes taking off and landing.

Alexander Cauguiran, who heads Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC), said: "Having the flag carrier operate in Clark is a huge step towards our advocacy of having a dual-airport system in the country."

Travellers from Metro Manila up to Bicol in the south could use NAIA, while CIAC could cater to those from Northern and Central Luzon, he explained.

As much as 8 to 10 million people passing through NAIA actually head to places like Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Baguio afterwards, Cauguiran said.

"It would be more convenient for them to just use the Clark airport," he added.

PAL's Clark flights have so far been met with strong interest. Most planes are near full, Bautista said, particularly those on the Caticlan route.

More importantly for the flag carrier, the shift to Clark allows it to maximize the use of seven new aircraft this year.

"We can't just depend on NAIA for growth anymore. The day slots are already taken. We've even taking the evening slots for us to grow," Bautista said.

He explained new hubs like those in Clark, Cebu and Caticlan can help PAL grow its business. PAL is debuting Cebu-Singapore and Cebu-Caticlan flights this Friday too.

This, as the flag carrier expects a tough 2017 ahead for the airline industry. Oil prices have jumped worldwide, and the peso has weakened in the Philippines, Bautista said.

"We need to maximize our aircraft," he said. "We will look for more destinations, especially around the ASEAN and China."