Philippine travel agency, Southwest Air Marketing Tours and Promotions, is seeking an air operator certificate (AOC) for its Bicol Air Express unit to expand into scheduled services with a fleet of Fokker 50s.
Bicol currently provides some ad hoc charter flights using a146 and a Dornier 328 it charters from other operators, but the airline now plans to obtain its own AOC so it can operate scheduled and non-scheduled services, the airline’s president Ramon Torres tells Aviation Week.
According to Torres, Bicol already has a business license from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and has completed almost all the paperwork for its AOC. Responsibility for issuing AOCs rests with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
Torres, who is a former Philippine Airlines Fokker 50 pilot, says Bicol plans to dry-lease Fokker 50s. He will not say which lessor will provide the aircraft, as the airline has yet to sign any lease deal, but adds that Bicol has been speaking to maintenance, repair and overhaul service provider Fokker Services Asia in Singapore.
There is an opportunity for an airline that can provide point-to-point services between the Philippines’ many tourist destinations, says Torres. “There are many larger domestic airlines in the Philippines that don’t fly to the final tourist destinations,” he says. He adds that even when these larger carriers serve tourist destinations, the flights are usually routed through Manila or Cebu, which is an inconvenience for travelers. The larger carriers are often unable to serve the tourist destinations with their narrowbody fleets as these are usually remote places, with small unpaved air strips.
The country’s two most popular tourist regions are Bicol in the east and Palawan in the west, and Torres intends to operate non-stop flights between the two destinations.
Torres also says the carrier plans to participate in BIMP-EAGA, a sub-regional economic cooperation initiative between the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia that aims to link these countries’ secondary cities. The government is encouraging local carriers to launch international services to these countries from Puerto Princesa, General Santos, Zamboanga and Davao in the Philippines, Torres adds.
Although avoiding direct competition with larger carriers, Torres says Bicol would like to code share with these airlines. “Bicol is going to be positioned as a ‘boutique airline’ that will be providing a full-service, including meals on board. We will be bringing back the grandeur of flying,” he adds.
It is unclear when Bicol will receive its AOC, as it needs to secure an aircraft on dry-lease, which it can then present to the CAAP for inspection.
Torres, however, says Bicol plans to launch charter flights in September from Naga City in the eastern Philippines to Caticlan Airport, the gateway to the Philippine resort area of Boracay, which is also in the eastern Philippines. That same month the airline also plans to launch charter flights from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Basco city in the northern Philippines.
Bicol will be providing the services using two BAE 146s chartered from Philippines charter operator, says Torres.
Torres says Bicol’s earlier charter flights also used a Lionair BAE 146 as well as a Dornier 328 turboprop leased from Luis Singson, a business man who also is governor of Ilocos Sur province.