SUBIC BAY FREEPORT – After almost nine months of flying home overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other returning Filipinos via this free port, the Philippine Air Lines (PAL) landed its last “Bayanihan” repatriation flight here on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
The last flight into Subic consisted of 77 passengers from Koror City in Palau, an archipelago of islands southeast of the Philippines with a substantial population of Filipino contract workers.
Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said the government’s repatriation flights to Subic Bay was stopped after aviation authorities increased the capacity of inbound international passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) when Covid-19 restrictions were eased.
“So, there’s no more need for PAL to reroute OFW flights via Subic. It is a bittersweet moment for us because PAL’s repatriation flights here somewhat revived our airport operations and brought much- needed income to Subic hotels during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Eisma said on Tuesday.
“Still, the lifting of passenger capacity limit at the NAIA is a sign that we are going back to normal and this is most welcome,” she added.
Eisma said that at the height of the government OFW repatriation program, Subic was connected to 10 cities and major destinations in the Indo-Pacific area. These are Riyadh and Dammam in Saudi Arabia; Bahrain; Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE; Doha in Qatar; Macau, Palau, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and Diego Garcia.
She added that the use of Subic as an alternate port of since July last year has resulted in increased international aircraft and passenger movements, as well as improved income for the Subic airport.
According to Zharrex Santos, manager of the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA), PAL has made a total of 82 repatriation flights here since July when the SBIA was made an alternative hub under a government program to facilitate the return of OFWs during the Covid-19 pandemic. These did not include nine flights diverted to the nearby Clark Airport due to inclement weather.
With the 82 Bayanihan flights, a total of 20,522 passengers were processed through the Subic airport, then brought to Subic hotels for mandatory quarantine.As of Feb. 6, the SBIA has generated more than P4.2 million in direct income from the PAL repatriation flights, Santos said.
Meanwhile, PAL consultant Charlie Yu expressed his gratitude to the SBMA, Bureau of Immigration (BOI), Bureau of Customs (BOC), Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard, Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA), and the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) for handling the repatriation program via the Subic airport.
He also thanked quarantine hotels and other tourism stakeholders in the Subic Freeport for their support and service to the inbound OFWs and other returning Filipinos who flew home through Subic.