Philippine carriers to expand in Middle East

PHOTO: Facebook/Philippine Airlines

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) said it was on schedule to add a new route to Saudi Arabia this month, while budget airline Cebu Pacific Air said it would continue to seek expansion opportunities around the Persian Gulf.

Economic risks are being highlighted globally, including the Philippines, which has millions of workers in that region, following a diplomatic crisis triggered by the Saudi execution of a Shiite cleric.

Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran, a move followed by its allies Bahrain and Sudan. The United Arab Emirates likewise downgraded its diplomatic contingent in Iran, reports overseas showed.

For the two Philippines-based airlines, however, it was business as usual.

"PAL flights slated this month to Kuwait and Jeddah are green and go. The Middle East expansion continues. Kuwait flights commence on Jan. 17 and Jeddah flights, Jan. 19," PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said in a text message.

Alex Reyes, who heads Cebu Pacific's long-haul division, said their passenger load in its Middle East routes "remain healthy."

"We continue to operate scheduled flights to and from Dubai, Kuwait, Doha and Riyadh and remain interested in adding flights to key destinations in the Middle East to cater to the growing travel demand of Filipino communities residing in this region," Reyes said in a text message.

Carriers serving these routes are kept busy by the large number of Filipinos either living or working in the Middle East. The Department of Foreign Affairs estimates that there are about 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers deployed in the region, with about 800,000 based in Saudi Arabia alone.

For PAL, the move to Kuwait and Jeddah is aimed at supporting its operations in the Middle East, which currently include flights to Dubai, Riyadh, Dammam and Abu Dhabi, think tank Capa-Center for Aviation said in a recent report.

Flights to Dubai, in particular, have been challenging for PAL since these were launched around the same time Cebu Pacific launched its rival service, Capa said.

Gulf carriers are also increasing their presence in the Philippines.

Dubai-based Emirates is reviving flights to Clark International Airport and is launching flights to Cebu on March 30, 2016. The move followed air talks between the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines in August last year.