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PHILIPPINES’ ‘SPIRIT’ MULLS REGULAR KOROR FLIGHTS Feeler charter flights prove a success

By Ma Stella f. Arnaldo Philippines Correspondent

MANILA, Philippines (Marianas Business Journal, ) – Newly-established Philippine carrier, Spirit of Manila Airlines Corp., is looking to fly regular scheduled services between Clark in Pampanga, north of Manila, and Koror, Palau.

An airline executive, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told the Journal that the airline currently has a charter service between the two destinations. "These [charters] are preparatory to filing for an authorization to mount regular flights. Because we're new, we want to make sure first that the market is there," the source said.

The Clark-Koror charter service was first mounted on Sept. 11 using a 147-seater MD-83, and departed from the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport. "It was full," the airline executive said of the flight

For about $1,500 per person, the travel package includes roundtrip airfare, airport transfers, four nights-five days accommodation in choice Koror hotels, and tours.

"Most of [these passengers] are tourists - divers, those who snorkel -and others who just want to see Koror, eat some lobsters, etc.," the official noted. He extolled the natural wonders of Palau "where its beauty lies beneath the waters."

The source said the airline has five charter flights to Koror in September but may file more schedules for October with the Palau Civil Aviation Authority because of the overwhelming response to the service. The chartered flights leave Clark at 12:30 p.m. and arrive in Koror at 4 p.m. Return flights to Clark leave Koror at 5 p.m. The flight between the two destinations approximately takes two-and-a-half hours.

At present, the airline only has outgoing charters to Koror but the airline executive didn't rule out the possibility that Spirit of Manila would accept charters to Clark, which is an hour away from Manila. Palauans like coming to Manila for tourism, business and health purposes.

As for its planned scheduled flights to Koror, the official said if the airline is granted a permit, it would offer "competitive fares" instead of bumping heads with Continental Micronesia, which already flies between Manila and Koror with a Guam stopover.

The former Asian Spirit (now Zest Airways under new management) first mounted flights between Manila-Davao and Koror in April 2006, then Manila-Cebu and Koror. The airline stopped the service in November 2007 due to low revenues. The airline's round trip air fares between Cebu and Koror then were about $330 per person.

Meanwhile, Spirit of Manila will be mounting regular thrice-weekly schedules to Kuwait, Bahrain, and Dubai "once our new plane arrives," the airline official said. The carrier is expecting a Boeing B777 by October and hopes to start serving these destinations "by the start of the winter season [which starts on] Oct. 31," the airline executive said. More than two million Filipinos work in the Middle East as construction workers, domestic helpers, nurses and other medical personnel, accountants and other professionals.

The arrival of the B777 will increase the airline's fleet to three, two of which are MD-83s. All planes are leased from GE Capital Aviation Services, the same company that was supposed to lease two flag carrier Philippine Airlines. PAL's planned lease was put on hold due to its financial problems.

Other destinations currently flown by Spirit of Manila are Macau, Taipei and Kalibo, Aklan, the latter being a gateway to Boracay Island.

The airline official said Spirit of Manila has a temporary operating permit and certificate of public convenience and necessity this year from the Philippines Civil Aeronautics Board. It will also be seeking a congressional franchise from the Philippine Congress.

According to the General Information Sheet filed by Spirit of Manila with the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 24, the airline was incorporated on Jan. 10, 2008, with an authorized capital of 350 million pesos ($7.92 million), of which 291 million pesos ($6.6 million) was paid up. The documents also indicate six Filipino shareholders on record, one Chinese company, and one Qatari national.

Stockholders on record are: Blue Air Holdings Ltd. based in Kowloon, Hong Kong - Chinese nationality (39.6%); Jaime Matibag, Filipino (33.8%); Aviation Specialists Consultancy Inc., Filipino (14.3%); Wilfredo Saurin based in Bangkok, Thailand (8.45%); Basilio P. Reyes, Filipino (2.79%); Tricia G. Carolino, Filipino (0.68%); Hamad Ali Jabor Al-Thani, a Qatari based in Dubai (0.40%); and Jose P. Casi, Filipino (0.0%). The Filipinos account for 51.87% of total ownership.

Reyes and Matibag are chairman and president of the airline, respectively.

Documents filed with the Hong Kong government's Companies Registry showed Al-Thani as the sole owner of Blue Air Holdings. The company was registered on Sept. 24, 2008, with an authorized capital of HK$10,000 (US$1,287), of which HK$1,000 (US$128.75) was paid-up. Al-Thani put down as his registered address, the same Manila address as another Spirit of Manila shareholder, Aviation Specialists. MBJ

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