The physical distancing in flights, where passengers are seated one seat apart, will be unprofitable, the airlines told lawmakers on Monday as they repeated their call for government aid.
While there had been no large-scale layoffs, a wage subsidy from Congress would help sustain the jobs in aviation, said Air Carriers Association of the Philippines Vice Chairman Roberto Lim. His group includes Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia Philippines.
Lim said the airlines’ losses had so far amounted to $5 billion (P250 billion), that some 25,000 airline employees had been affected by the travel ban, and the uncertainty could be felt in 500,000 other tourism jobs.
Local airlines would need about P1.3 billion a month for wage subsidies, P6.8 billion for working capital, and P500 million for navigational charges, landing and take-off fees and other operational payments, Lim told senators.
"The key is for us to fly again, it's a catalyzer of economic activity,” Lim said.
“It doesn't have to be all flights. Reopening at 50 percent capacity is not economically viable for airlines, but 70 percent may be agreeable.”
But the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said social distancing must be observed by international commercial airlines and charter flights that would be bringing home Filipino residents and diplomats after the government allowed them to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The CAAP announced the lifting of the suspension imposed on inbound international flights for repatriating Filipinos starting today.
Still, CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio said only 400 passengers a day would be allowed to enter the country because of social distancing inside the plane.
An Airbus 320 with a maximum seating capacity of 170 may take in only 60 to 70 passengers per flight.
Meanwhile, all arriving passengers at the NAIA will be tested for COVID-19 and required to go on quarantine starting Monday, when commercial flights resumed at the Philippines' main airport, officials said.
The tests will use PCR or polymerase chain reaction technology, which is considered the most conclusive in detecting COVID-19 infections
The total daily passenger arrivals were capped to 400 from 2,000 to give way to the mandatory test and quarantine, Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal said.
“The PCR test is now mandatory,” he said.
He said once the enhanced community quarantine or lockdown in Metro Manila and urban areas was lifted on May 15, the airport was ready to cater to passenger and airline demand.
Social distancing, disinfection, and other anti-coronavirus measures were in place, Monreal said.
But Senator Grace Poe, head of the Senate public services committee, questioned the sustainability of the mandatory testing and quarantine for arriving passengers.
“It doesn’t look like this is something we can sustain. Where will you put 400 people every day?” Poe said.