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 in 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 and made 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. In that year, CAAP recorded only 300,604 aircraft movements, and almost 60% drop from the previous year. Ninoy Aquino International Airport of Metro Manila, the busiest airport in the country, saw a sharp decline of passenger movements for both domestic and international by at least 85% from the previous year.

To say that the year 2020 was very challenging for every Filipino was an understatement. Many got stranded as there were only limited flights available. There was a long list of health requirements and declarations 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 from 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 put in place in every flight as the airline companies struggle to keep their heads above the water as they grapple 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 the 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 frontliners. Domestic flights were starting to pick up again as the local governments eased their restrictions as more batches of vaccines from different pharmaceutical companies continue to arrive regularly in our country. Despite this, this is far from over. The threat of COVID-19 is still there. Experts say 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 being over. We are walking on a tight rope. There were reports that COVID-19 cases were still rising in some parts of the country, and there are cities and provinces that still impose lockdowns, curfew, and flight cancellations to assuage this global health crisis. The pandemic claimed millions of lives and affected almost every individual in the world. It not only destroyed the livelihood of people and severed the ties of families, but it took a toll on everyone's mental health. Everyone is striving to be better, be it in the medical services, tourism sector, or the airline industry. 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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