Mactan International Airport Image Credit: File

Dubai: Flights between the UAE and the Philippines will see a 25 per cent increase soon, possibly connecting more regional airports in the south-east Asian nation to the hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a senior Philippine aviation official confirmed to Gulf News on Friday night.

While the increase is modest, it would help address the massive spike in demand for seats on this busy route as both the Philippines and the UAE seek to boost their tourism sectors.

On Friday, the Philippines and the UAE concluded two-day talks in which they agreed to increase air traffic rights between the two nations from the current 28 weekly flights to 35 from each side.

This raises the total number of weekly flights to 70 -- from the existing 56 -- between the two countries.

The negotiations between UAE and Philippine carriers with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) on Thursday and Friday (Aug 27-28) ended on a "happy note", said the official.

“The parties agreed to increase the maximum number of flights per week for each country from the current 28 flights to 35, subject to the condition that the UAE carrier operating such additional flights to Manila is bound to also operate separately to Clark or Cebu within one year from signing of the Memorandum of Understanding,” Carmelo Arcilla, CAB Executive Director, told Gulf News following the signing of the MOU on Friday night.

Currently, weekly flight entitlements between the UAE and the Philippines stand at 28, which already doubled from 14 following the air talks in 2012.

Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways have 14 flight entitlements each (or a total of 28 weekly flights) in the Dubai/Abu Dhabi-Manila (and vice versa) sectors.

Philippine legacy carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has 14 weekly flight entitlements -- in addition, PAL Express will have seven; and Cebu Pacific, also seven, on the same route.

With flight allocations now up to 35 weekly on UAE carriers, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways will have to agree on how to divide the entitlements between them, according to the official.

The same goes for the Philippine carriers.

Arcilla said the condition to diversify the routes and extend it to the international airports in Clark or Cebu is in line with the Philippines’ "open skies" policy.

Clark International Airport is considered the gateway to the northern Philippines, while Mactan-Cebu International Airport caters to the populous and under-served southern part of the country.

Fifth-freedom rights

Based on the agreement, the Philippines also got on a unilateral basis additional fifth -freedom traffic rights to the UK, US and Saudi Arabia.

“This means that our carriers can fly from Manila to the UAE and onward to any country including the UK, US and Saudia Arabia. This will improve Philippine connectivity and also the commercial viability of our routes to the UAE,” Arcilla said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the top two destination countries of overseas Filipino workers, while the US and UK are home to millions of immigrant Filipinos.

Huge demand

Currently, an estimated 850,000 Filipinos live and work in the UAE.

Arcilla said the parties also agreed on "co-terminalisation", which allows an airline from one country to fly to a city in the other country and onward to another city in that country without picking up passengers in the domestic leg.

“Overall, the [air] talks is a success for Philippine connectivity and network development. The Philippine government panel and our airlines view the exchange as more or less fair, as the increase in traffic rights for both sides, which our airlines opposed, is minimal, and we also got unilateral concessions for the increase, in terms of subjecting the operation of the additional traffic rights by the  UAE carriers, on the operation of services to Clark or Cebu,” Arcilla said.