By Joey Aguilar/Staff Reporter
For the Filipino couple of Rod and Lani, more than seven hours of land travel from Manila to their home in Zambales province was a burden every time they went home on a vacation.
But in a few months from now, the two overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will no longer have to experience the heavy road traffic all the way from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to their final destination.
Two Middle East carriers, Emirates and Qatar Airways, have decided to launch daily flights to Clark International Airport (CIA) in Pampanga, the Philippines, on October 1 and 27, respectively.
“We have been waiting for this and it is a timely development as we will have our one-month vacation this December. Less hassle, certainly,” said Lani, who has been working in Doha with her husband for nearly three years. From seven hours, the travel time will now be cut down to only four hours or less.
The couple is just two of the 23mn residents of Central and Northern Luzon (excluding Manila). It is where the families of several Middle East-based OFWs live.
About 680,000 Filipino expatriates stay in the UAE while 342,000 work in Qatar, according to the Commission on Filipino Overseas. Besides, there are 186,000 Filipino in Kuwait.
Speaking on his experience, Ambassador Crescente Relacion told Gulf Times that flights going to the Philippines were often full.
He disclosed that some airlines wanted to double their frequencies to Manila. However, it was learnt that NAIA was too congested to accept more flights and airport officials offered CIA as an alternative.
The ambassador said new flights to the former US air base would benefit OFWs, especially those who live near Clark, about 80km north of Manila. The airport is being managed by Clark International Airport Corp (CIAC).
Sheikh Majid al-Mualla, Emirates senior vice-president for commercial operations (Gulf, Middle East and Iran), said in a press statement: “When you see these figures showing the full extent of the Filipino diaspora, it’s clear how important a new route to the Philippines becomes.” A two-class Boeing 777-300ER will be used for the Dubai-Clark flights.
Besides OFWs and Philippine government officials in Qatar, tourism regional director Ronnie Tiotuico has also expressed confidence that these international flights to Clark will boost the economy in both regions.
In a recent report in Filipino daily Headline Gitnang Luzon, CIAC president and CEO Victor Jose Luciano said the airport was undergoing a major revamp as part of the preparations for welcoming the two international flights.
CIA is host to budget and legacy carriers like AirAsia, Seair-Tiger, Cebu Pacific Air, Jin Air, Asiana Airlines and Dragonair. From 1.4mn passengers in 2012, Luciano said they are expecting more than 2mn this year.
He also noted that airlines operating at Clark offer flights to several key destinations, including Singapore, Macau, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
CIA is also being eyed as the next premier international gateway of the Philippines.