ZAMBOANGA CITY (MEDCo/23 May) -- A new air service is renewing Mindanao's direct link to its neighboring areas in the East ASEAN Growth Area (EAGA) with Asian Spirit now flying the Zamboanga-Sandakan route, bringing in more opportunities for closer trade, tourism and investment ties between the Philippines and Malaysia.
Asian Spirit, a Philippine-registered airline company, offers a faster, cheaper and more convenient way of traveling to Malaysia as it launched here recently its first commercial flight from Zamboanga to Sandakan. A Japanese-built Weiss-11, the 60-seater plane flies an hour and a half from Zamboanga to Sandakan and vice versa on a thrice a week schedule every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"We've studied the market and the market is there," Capt. Antonio Buendia, Asian Spirit president said on the market viability of the Zamboanga-Sandakan route during the airline's inaugural flight last 08 May.
Yeo Boon Hai, President of the Sandakan Municipal Council, welcomed the re-opening of the route, seeing it as a sign of renewed confidence of the airline business in sustaining business and tourism linkages between the two EAGA focus areas.
"This flight will enhance the relationship between the two sister cities," said Yeo
The airline enjoys free navigational and landing charges from Sandakan government and 50% off on all aeronautical fees from the Philippine government in support of liberalizing the subregion's air linkages.
Asian Spirit is the latest airline that flies the Zamboanga-Sandakan route, which was previously served by South Phoenix Airways in 2004 and the Russian-owned Mosphil Aero last year. Aside from this new route, Asian Spirit is also eyeing at linking Zamboanga-Cagayan de Oro City and the Zamboanga-Brunei Darussalam routes.
The airline currently flies regularly to Tawi-Tawi and Jolo from Zamboanga
"We have been trying to push for a strong relationship with our neighbour and the key ingredient there is the airlink. We hope that Asian Spirit will be able to sustain the flights," Rafael Evangelista, regional director of the National Economic Development Authority IX, said
Meanwhile, Dir. Ricardo San Juan of the Department of Tourism (DOT) IX said that the government will work hand in hand with the airline by exploring marketing windows of increasing tourist exchange between Sandakan and Zamboanga Peninsula.
Data processed by the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) showed that in 2006, Zamboanga Peninsula has drawn a total of 507,376 domestic and foreign visitor arrivals, about 885 of which are from Malaysia, a drop from the 2,799 Malaysian arrivals recorded in 2005.
"The revival of the Zamboanga-Sandakan route is a positive indication of the strong policy cooperation not only between Malaysia and the Philippines but also of the other two members of the EAGA region, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia," according to MEDCo chair Virgilio Leyretana.
He added that the opening of another economic gateway in Mindanao is "a milestone in encouraging interest to the island-region especially in the sectors of tourism and trade as the airlink will promote Mindanao's potentials to the international market."
The Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) is a major collaboration to boost the socio-economic development among poor regions of its member-countries by strengthening policies that will enhance the movement of people and goods.
EAGA members are pushing for more regular air connections to link the four countries to the rest of the world and accelerate the planned integration of EAGA's tourism development. (MEDCo)