DOTr relaxes commercial air travel restrictions on GCQ areas

Aviation Updates Philippines – The Philippines Department of Transportation (DOTr), through the latest guidelines from the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) for the aviation sector, welcomed the lifting of commercial air travel restrictions on areas under the general community quarantine (GCQ).
FLIGHTS TO RESTART. The Department of Transportation hopes to jump-start the economy with the revival of few yet important air links in the country. Photo from JC Pascual, AUP Contributor
Based on the guidelines, the Philippine aviation body will now allow the following flights for GCQ areas:

  • Government and military flights
  • International flights (subject to existing IATF-EID/BOQ protocols)
  • Air ambulance and medical supply flights
  • Flight check and weather mitigation flights
  • Maintenance and utility flights
  • Emergency flights
  • Domestic flights coming to and from provinces and cities under GCQ (subject to required airport clearances and flight plan approvals, as may be applicable)
  • Other flights as approved by the IATF-EID

The IATF-EID, which has the highest-governing power in the management of all COVID-19-related matters, emphasized that there will still be a need for strict health procedures for these airport operations. 

The guidelines have mandated all individuals to wear face masks, face shields, or other personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times coupled with the mandatory checking of body temperatures. The DOTr stressed that only passengers with valid travel documents are allowed inside the airport. 

Additionally, the Transportation Department stressed that physical distancing "shall be strictly observed inside the airport premises." Security personnel must also strictly observe reduced body contact while still maintaining airport safety with the use of security equipment.

Notably, COVID-19 rapid testing facilities will be installed at all airports. This will be in addition to the establishment of disinfecting facilities in all terminals like foot baths. The DOTr reassured that frequently used items inside the airport will be disinfected routinely.

For increased public awareness, airports will feature signs and displays about safety precautions and other health guidelines. "Also, alert bulletins shall be made through airport flight information display systems, and through public announcements," the DOTr added.

Health declaration and passenger locator forms will also be required to be filled out for every passenger. Philippine Airlines and Philippines AirAsia both mandated these health cards intended for passengers on its domestic and international flights in the coming days.

Reopening of airports under GCQ sought

Yesterday, Secretary of Transportation Arthur Tugade urged the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and airport authorities to "seriously consider" in airports under the lowered community quarantine status, specifically GCQ. This, the secretary believes, will kick start airline operations in the Philippines which has since been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The reopening of airports in GCQ areas to commercial aviation will gradually jump-start 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 in a recent report.

However, crucial international airports in the Philippines such as Manila, Cebu, and Davao, are still in the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) status. Therefore, no flights from these three main airline hubs are allowed while the ECQ is in effect.

The DOTr, as an alternative, recommended that airlines set-up inter-island flights from Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, General Santos, Laguindingan, among others, through the Hub and Spoke system. Tugade said airlines currently have inter-island flights between these regional airports.

“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. Pag-iisipan namin kung paano ito maisasagawa ng maayos at mabilis (We will think on ways to carry out this plan effectively),” the transportation chief said.