Zest Airways eyes Middle East flights

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Zest Airways, the airline of juice drink magnate Alfred Yao, has bared plans to fly to the Middle East, which is home to millions of overseas Filipino workers.

Documents from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) showed that the company applied for the authority to mount regular flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Currently, there are no local airlines flying from the Philippines to the Middle East, although flag carrier Philippine Airlines sells tickets to Abu Dhabi, among others, through code-sharing agreements.

Yao, founder of the juice drink brand Zest-O, was not available for comment.

Zest Airways currently operates a fleet of nine Airbus A320 jets and one Airbus A319, all of which have a flight range of four hours, which are insufficient for direct flights to the Middle East.

In the past, Zest Airways said it wanted to lease brand-new Boeing 777 aircraft-the same flagship plane model used by PAL-as part of plans to expand its reach in the region. Zest Air's international flights include services to Incheon, South Korea; Jinjiang and Shanghai, China; and Taipei, Taiwan.

Apart from Zest Airways, Cebu Pacific also has plans to mount flights to the Middle East. It earlier applied for entitlements to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Cebu Pacific wants to use these entitlements when it starts long-haul flights in late 2013, after it gets its four Airbus A330 planes.

For its part, PAL already has the rights to fly to the Middle East, and has tried on several times to have direct flights to the region.

Unfortunately, high operating costs and stiff competition from Arab carriers that get their fuel at a discounts have made these routes unprofitable, forcing PAL to halt flights to the region.

The country's international air travel sector grew by nearly a tenth in 2011, outpacing the growth of the global aviation sector, which suffered from economic crises and volatile fuel prices.

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