Reflective of her thriving business climate, holiday attractions, and innate friendliness of the locals, Cebu scored a historic grand slam as she welcomed no less than three inaugural overseas flights scheduled within a four-day period at the country’s second largest international gateway.
The arrival area of the international terminal of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, or MCIA, was abuzz with activities that fateful week as airport bigwigs, tourism VIPs, and airline executives led several welcome delegations amidst fanfare, pictorials, and water cannon receptions.
Emirates easily created the biggest impact among the three airlines (the other two being Xiamen Air and EVA Air) as its Boeing 777-300ER touched down at the tarmac adjacent to an airport lounge filled with excited industry stakeholders and government officials who have waited many years for that historic flight.
To note, the United Arab Emirates, especially its capital city Dubai, is teeming with tens of thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who have been flying regularly to and from Manila only for the past few decades for their work duties in the oil-rich country.
Now, passengers can avail of wider connectivity since Emirates connects Cebu to Clark prior to flying out of the country for Dubai, thereby lowering costs and maximizing convenience and accessibility for everyone.
Emirates’ newest flight leaves Cebu daily at 5:20 p.m. and arrives in Clark International Airport at 6:50 p.m. Plane departs from Clark at 8:20 pm and arrives at the Dubai International Airport 1:20 a.m. the next day. From Dubai, Flight no. EK338 leaves daily at 2:55 a.m. and arrives at the Mactan Airport at 3:50 p.m.
In an interview with reporters following the formal ceremonies, Badr Abbas, senior vice president for commercial operations in the Far East, expressed confidence that the passenger and cargo volume along with the growth of inbound tourism would play an important role in the stability and feasibility of the new flight schedule.
He also cited that 75 percent of the Filipinos in the Gulf come from Luzon, while the rest come from the Visayas-Mindanao region, thus guaranteeing a steady flow of market revenue. Onboard, Filipino passengers are given generous baggage allowance and are provided with wide choices of Filipino music, movies, and cuisine for a more memorable flight.
In addition, the airline can also accommodate more Philippine exports especially from Northern Luzon and the Visayas. Perishable products can be accommodated in the early morning arrival in Dubai and transported to most of Europe and beyond, thereby raising export volume.
Regarding company assets, Abbas said focus is always on upgrading products and services. This has resulted in Emirates having the widest fleet with over 250 wide-bodied aircraft; an extensive global network of over 150 destinations including 39 European cities; the world’s largest airport with over 70 million passengers yearly; and a cabin crew composed of over 5,000 personnel, 1,050 of which are Filipinos.
Transportation Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya emphasized the important roles airports play in the field of development while also underscoring the massive airport improvements headed by GMR-CAC (Cebu Airport Corporation).
He also looked forward to the completion of the new terminal by 2018 which will then have a maximum capacity of 12 million, three times its present capacity.
Xiamen and Eva Air
Another airline, Xiamen Air, made its inaugural flight to Cebu last Monday, Mar. 28. The plane leaves Cebu on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at 12:55 p.m. and lands in Xiamen at 3:55 p.m. From Xiamen, plane leaves 9 am and arrives in Cebu 11:55 a.m. the next day.
According to Hao Yenchiu, the Manila-based airport supervisor, the airline utilizes the Boeing 738 which accommodates 162 in economy class and eight in business class.
“Xiamen visitors prefer the beach and water activities during the winter season which is from November to February. They also appreciate the friendliness and the heritage sites of Cebu,” she said in nearly fluent English.
Yenchiu also clarified that Xiamen Air is a full-service airline consisting of 150 planes.
“Xiamen is also like Makati, full of factories and malls. We spoke Fookien before but more on Mandarin now in order to be more understood nationwide,” she added.
Last Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, EVA Air Flight No. BR 281 which flies the daily Taipei-Cebu route landed at the Mactan airport using the Airbus 321-200s.
From Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, the flight leaves 7:10 a.m. and lands in Cebu 10:05 a.m. From Cebu, BR 282 leaves the Mactan airport at 11:05 a.m. and lands in Taipei at 2 p.m.
EVA Air general manager Steven Wu announced that the airline links Cebu to over 60 international destinations through its connecting flights via North America, Europe, Japan, Korea, mainland China, and others.
EVA Air was named by AirlineRatings.com as among the world’s top 10 “best for economy plus and economy class travel”, aside from being singled out as the world’s Top 10 Best Airlines by the same company.
Earlier, MCIAA General Manager Nigel Paul Villarete revealed that his office now targets secondary cities instead of capital cities when inviting airline prospects to establish linkages with the Mactan airport.
“Capital cities are crowded now. We want second-tiered cities which target more the low-cost carriers. And we always base our decisions on the recommendations of the Department of Tourism (DOT) since they are at the frontline in the industry,” the airport official stated.
He also bared that China remains their top target due to the huge numbers involved. With a population of over 1-B Chinese, a mere one percent or 10 million visitors would already be much more than enough to satisfy tourism targets and quotas.
The total number of foreign destinations accessible to Cebu now stands at four in March alone since PAL established its Los Angeles-Cebu connection by mid-March.
By RICHARD RAMOS