ASEAN open skies dream remains unfulfilled

AIRLINES, particularly LCCs, are making inroads in delivering the fabled ASEAN open skies policy first mooted a decade ago.

In an attempt to address the issue during yesterday’s panel discussion, Alan Tan, professor of aviation law at the National University of Singapore, argued that a true liberalisation would ensure seventh freedom rights – the right to transport passengers between two foreign countries without offering flights to one’s home country – in the ASEAN Single Aviation Market­.

“Without seventh freedom rights, a Singapore airline would not be able to connect say, the Philippines, with China. But Chinese carriers, with a single backyard, can fly from any point in China to any point in ASEAN, creating an immediate systemic imbalance,” Tan explained.

Citing the same example of flying from ASEAN to China, AirAsia X CEO, Azran Osman-Rani, said: “We’ve circumvented that, bowing down to foreign ownership limits and creating joint ventures to have multiple hubs across South-east Asia, so that we’d be able to use the national rights to fly to China.

“That’s step one, because we need to get to the stage where governments see there are parties on both ends who are not significantly outsized or outstripped. We’ve generated (customer) demand first.

“The issue isn’t defending against Chinese carriers but embracing the opportunity and, by virtue of the fact that maybe the Chinese will start and take advantage of their disproportionate rights, gives us the mechanism to go back to our government and say ‘we’d like to be able to reciprocate’,” he concluded.

Echoing Osman-Rani’s comments during the panel, Peter Harbison, chief executive, CAPA – Centre for Aviation told TTG Asia e-Daily: “What the ASEAN Single Aviation Market proposes to do has in effect already been achieved commercially.”

Pointing to Thai AirAsia and the wider AirAsia network as an example, he remarked that although effective control is obviously coming from the external source and the local partner is usually a sleeping one, governments have looked the other way. “This is what I meant by passive liberalisation, which is driven by the market.”

However, Harbison does not expect much to change in the South-east Asian commercial aviation landscape between now and 2015. “It’s theoretically possible, but commercially that won’t happen,” he said.

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