Airlines urged to mount more flights in Clark

Reynaldo G. Navales

CLARK FREEPORT -- Business leaders in Pampanga province have urged airlines to mount additional domestic and international flights at Clark International Airport (CRK).

The local traders made the move for Clark airport to lure more tourists to visit the country and at the same time help ease the congestion in Metro Manila.

“We hope to see more flights at Clark airport especially routes to the US and Europe as CRK offers numerous destinations in the country that are attractive to tourists and investments,” Arni Valdes, president of the Metro Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., said during a forum with Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) representatives held recently in Angeles City.

Valdes added that mounting additional flights at CRK will decongest the overcrowded Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

MJ Olidan, president of the Hotel and Restaurants Association in Pampanga (HARP), said her group hopes that airlines “will seriously consider adding North America flights via CRK.”

“Hotels and restaurants in Central Luzon are excited with the developments taking place (at CRK) and we hope to entice more passengers from the north (of the Philippines) and to attract more tourists to visit the country via Clark,” Olidan added.

The Alliance of Travel and Tour Agencies of Pampanga (ATTAP) also expressed hopes to see additional CRK-Tacloban flights and the return of the CRK-Kuala Lumpur and CRK-Kota Kinabalu routes.

“Clark’s development and the Manila-Clark railway will mostly benefit the business and tourism sectors and these pose a huge challenge to us to aggressively promote Clark airport and to attract more tourists,” Gilda Padua, ATTAP’s past president, said.

While travelers from Metro Manila up to Bicol in the south use NAIA, CRK caters to those from Northern and Central Luzon, according to CIAC President and CEO Alexander Cauguiran.

The CIAC chief added that out of the almost 37 million passengers that used NAIA in 2015, up to 27 percent came from Northern and Central Luzon, the source of Clark’s main catchment population.

Cauguiran also said negotiations for direct flights from Clark to the US, Japan, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Taiwan and Thailand are ongoing.

Francisco Villanueva, MACCII chairman, said the business sector is “upbeat on upcoming projects such as the (Manila-Clark) railway and the new passenger terminal that will attract more investors and will benefit the whole country.”

In his first State of the Nation Address in 2016, President Duterte mentioned Clark as an alternative airport that can be utilized to shift some operations of domestic and international airlines, a plan that has the support of the business sector in Pampanga, according to businessman Renato Tayag, MACCII’s past president.

“Clark is the airport of the North and its full potential must be utilized. This has been MACCII’s advocacy for a long time and that is why we urge more airlines to mount more flights here,” Tayag added.

Earlier, an executive of flag-carrier Philippine Airlines said the overall objective was to assist in the government’s drive to ease congestion at NAIA.

“This is also a venue for PAL to grow. If we will just depend on the available capacity of NAIA, we cannot grow much anymore,” PAL President Jaime Bautista, said.

Aside from the flag carrier, airlines that mount international and domestic flights at CRK are Cathay Pacific, Cebu Pacific, Emirates, Jin Air, Qatar Airways, Tiger Air, Air Asia, Air Swift, AlphaLand, and Wakay Air.

China Eastern Airlines, China's second largest carrier by passenger numbers, will begin its Clark-Shanghai flights on October 18.

According to Cauguiran, CRK currently has 130 international flights and 114 domestic flights weekly and passenger traffic is projected to reach 1.5 million by end of 2017.

The construction of CRK’s new terminal-building that can take in 8 million passengers annually is scheduled to be finished by the first quarter of 2020. The project is spearheaded by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) President and CEO Vivencio Dizon.