Come Back to Saudi Arabia, Filipinos Ask Philippine Airlines
Julie Javellana-Santos, Arab News
MANILA, 19 November 2006 — Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are appealing to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to persuade the Philippine Air Lines (PAL) to reconsider canceling direct flights to and from Manila to the Kingdom.
“Having been away from our motherland for an indefinite duration, identifying with and patronizing PAL is another way to be connected to the Philippines. We also believe this is another way of helping our ailing economy, apart from the remittances we send to our families,” said a letter to Arroyo and the PAL management by members of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Congress-Riyadh, the OFW Congress-Eastern Region, Kasapi Congress-Western Region and other community groups.
Main proponents Francis Oca, Manuel Amora and Vic Barrazona said ever since PAL ceased its Manila-Riyadh flights last March, Filipinos in the Kingdom have difficulty getting seats on airplane rides going home. They said many are often waitlisted in other airlines such that they are not able to take their vacation to the Philippines on time.
Before the national carrier shut down its Manila-Riyadh flights early this year, PAL President Jaime Bautista said the airline may continue flying to Saudi Arabia if the Philippine government secures a deal for PAL to include Dubai as a passenger pickup and drop-off point as part of its Riyadh or Jeddah route.
“We believe that a small window of opportunity exists to save PAL’s RP-KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) flights, if we are able to secure the necessary rights to operate a Manila-Dubai-KSA,” he said in his letter to Transport Secretary Leandro Mendoza and the country’s air panel.
The airline said it had been sustaining huge losses from the two routes, more so with the Manila-Riyadh where it had been losing $10 million (roughly P540 million) a year. PAL’s yield from the Riyadh route was eaten up by high fuel costs and its inability to compete with Gulf carriers that have been offering cheaper fares.
Bautista said a “fifth freedom right” to Dubai would have given PAL “a fighting chance to bring down losses to a more manageable level.” Fifth freedom is a right given to a country’s airline to drop off and pick up passengers from a middle point before proceeding to the actual destination.
“We urgently appeal to the government, through the DOTC and the RP Air Panel to assist us in pursuing this opportunity with KSA authorities as it is perhaps the last chance to save our flag carrier’s direct air links to the OFWs in KSA,” Bautista told Mendoza. This did not push through, however.
The Filipinos in Saudi Arabia appealed to Arroyo to look into PAL’s request in consideration of the huge number of OFWs and their dependents in the Kingdom, estimated to be around a million.
They also urged the PAL management to vigorously pursue its previous request from the DOTC.
“We believe PAL cannot lose if it continues to do business in Saudi Arabia considering the fact that this country has remained the top country destination of our OFWs. Last year, POEA deployment to Saudi was almost 200,000 OFWs. To date, stock estimates of Filipinos in the Kingdom are about a million Filipinos,” they said.