Thursday, June 3, 2021

COVID-19 Recovery: The Outlook of the Philippine Aviation Industry

In 2019, the aviation sector of the Philippines was at its peak. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) recorded 737,812 aircraft movements that year alone. It was attributed to the increasing flight frequencies to both international and domestic sectors as more airports cater to the needs of the flying public. As an archipelagic country, it added connectivity around the Philippines, making it even smaller. The aviation sector was gearing towards a brighter and promising future, full steam ahead.

It was until March 12, 2020, when President Rodrigo R. Duterte announced the suspension of both domestic and international flights in and out of Manila beginning March 15 to curb the spread of COVID-19. In just a snap of the finger, the entire world stood still. After a few days, other airports outside Manila also followed suit. The major airports in the country, which used to be bustling and filled with aircraft, airport employees, and passengers, were eerily quiet. It felt like a scene straight out of a dystopian movie. That year, CAAP recorded only 300,604 aircraft movements, and almost 60% dropped from the previous year. Ninoy Aquino International Airport of Metro Manila, the busiest airport in the country, saw a sharp decline in passenger movements for both domestic and international by at least 85% from the previous year.

To say that 2020 was very challenging for every Filipino was an understatement. Many got stranded as there were only limited flights available. A long list of health requirements and declarations was mandated by the accepting local government units. Hence, taking domestic flights felt like international travel. There were last-minute changes in the travel requirements as the governments scrambled to adjust to the mandates given by World Health Organization (WHO). The airline companies suffered a huge brunt due to this global pandemic, forcing them to lay off airline staff and pay cuts to the crew. New safety protocols were also implemented in every flight as the airline companies struggled to keep their heads above the water and grappled with huge losses and debts. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air, two of the biggest airline companies in the Philippines, have returned some of their fleets to their respective lessors to stay afloat and lessen expenditures.

On February 28, 2021, the Philippines finally received its first batches of vaccines from China. The priority during that time was for the medical frontlines. Domestic flights were starting to pick up again as the local governments eased their restrictions, as more batches of vaccines from different pharmaceutical companies continued to arrive regularly in our country. Despite this, this is far from over. The threat of COVID-19 is still there. Experts say that based on the current models, air traffic and passenger volume will be around 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels by 2024. 

While the government is ramping up its vaccination programs in various cities in the Philippines, we are still far from over. We are walking on a tightrope. There were reports that COVID-19 cases were still rising in some parts of the country, and cities and provinces still imposed lockdowns, curfews, and flight cancellations to assuage this global health crisis. The pandemic claimed millions of lives and affected almost every individual worldwide. It destroyed people's livelihoods, severed the ties of families, and took a toll on everyone's mental health. Everyone strives to improve, whether in the medical services, tourism, or airline industries. For what it's worth, this is just the beginning of something brighter and better. 

One can dream of living in a world without the threat of COVID-19, where everything is back to normal, and where everyone can book a flight and travel to different places. We may not see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but we will waver through this. When there is life, there is hope.


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