The government suspended all commercial and international flights for seven days in nine of its airports beginning Sunday, May 3, on the request of the task force spearheading the response to the COVID-19 crisis.
National Task Force on COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez requested Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to temporarily suspend flights in domestic and international airports as part of the government’s fight to contain the spread of COVID 19.
Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and all other airlines have cancelled their flights in compliance with the government order.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines issued a notice to airmen “suspending all domestic and international passenger/commercial flights to and from the Philippines for one week starting on 3 May at 8 a.m.”
The CAAP said international flights wishing to land or depart must request an exemption with CAAP Operations Center at least 36 hours before the scheduled departure from the airport of origin.
The CAP said commercial flight suspensions will be imposed in the country’s international airports in Manila (Ninoy Aquino International Airport), Davao, Clark, Iloilo, Mactan-Cebu, Zamboanga, Kalibo, Laoag, and Puerto Princesa.
However, cargo flights, sweeper flights, medical flights, utility flights, and maintenance flights are exempted, it said.
Galvez’s request came after Tugade made an earlier statement ordering airport authorities to “seriously consider” reopening airports in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) to jumpstart domestic tourism.
“The reopening of airports in GCQ areas to commercial aviation will gradually jumpstart airline operations now hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will plant the seeds for domestic tourism. This should seriously be considered,” Tugade said.
CAAP Director General Jim Sydiongco said airlines have already been “capable of mounting inter-island flights” to and from areas under general community quarantine.
“We want to operationalize this approach before the end of next week, but of course without compromising health and safety protocols set by the IATF and the Department of Health,” Tugade said.
Galvez said the suspension of flights to and from the country seeks to “decongest the country’s quarantine facilities.”
He added that they wanted to ensure that overseas Filipino workers are well taken care of when they arrive from abroad.
Outbound international commercial flights will be allowed after receiving approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Galvez assured the public the new flight restrictions are only temporary and will be implemented for one week to give the government the opportunity to decongest quarantine facilities in Metro Manila.
“We understand that said request, which we reiterate is a temporary measure, was made by the NTF to DOTr in order to allow the current system to ramp up its capacity to properly process the growing number of Filipino repatriates going back to the Philippines daily,” the DOTr said in a statement.
The government has already accommodated around 20,000 repatriates who are quarantined in Metro Manila, with an arrival rate of 2,000 per day. This measure to temporarily suspend international passenger arrivals will enable the government to decongest the processing of this number to a more manageable level, given the need to observe strict health protocols, and the fact that existing quarantine facilities are at full capacity, the department said.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines announced on Sunday it is cancelling special passenger flights from the United States scheduled from May 4 to May 8.
“If you are previously booked on any of the canceled flights, we will endeavor to rebook you to another special flight operating after the airport closure period. All such flights are subject to government approvals,” said PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna.
The special USA-Manila flights were supposed to carry only Filipino nationals, Philippine passport holders, their foreign spouses and children, and accredited officials of foreign governments and international organizations.