(Puerto Princesa International Airport file photo)

The steady incline in the total number of international and domestic passengers passing through Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPIA) suggests that tourist numbers could surpass pre-pandemic figures as early as next year, said the the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP)–Area IV during a press conference on Thursday.

Mohammad Naga Rascal, civil aviation authority manager for CAAP Area IV, presented their office’s statistics during the online Kapihan sa PIA on June 27. He stated that CAAP logged a total figure of 77% for PPIA’s 2023 figures compared to 2019, a trend echoed at a national level.

CAAP Area IV measured operations across four airports in Palawan: PPIA, Francisco B. Reyes Airport in Coron, San Vicente Airport in the same municipality, and Cuyo Airport.

These airports collectively recorded 11,459 international and domestic flights and 1,683,091 passengers in 2023. This was closer to the 2019 totals of 14,964 flights carrying 2,103,550 passengers.

Rascal indicated a steady increase in flight numbers, particularly due to the rise in direct international flights from PPIA to Taipei and Incheon from January to May 2024.

Furthermore, Rascal mentioned that CAAP Area IV plans to introduce a direct flight to Singapore’s Changi Airport later this year, further boosting PPIA’s flight capacity.

“Sa ating [first quarter], the CAAP has already increased our domestic flights, dahil alam natin na laging punuan ang mga airline araw-araw. We have a daily average of around 20-30 flights counting from January to May,” he said.

As of 2024, PPIA and Coron Airport averaged around 17-18 domestic and international flights daily. From January to May, PPIA averaged 2,500-2,600 arriving and departing passengers daily, while Coron saw around 900-1,000.

Although Cuyo and San Vicente airports lacked direct commercial flights, they received charter planes and flights transporting goods like fish, with both averaging one flight daily. San Vicente Airport saw an average of around eight passengers daily.

Rascal also mentioned the ongoing construction of an international airport in Busuanga, scheduled for completion around 2028.

Fitch Solutions’ Business Model International (BMI) unit, an industry and financial market analysis group, released their forecast on June 24. They projected a 32.6% increase in tourist arrivals in the Philippines for 2024, potentially reaching 6.6 million visitors nationwide compared to 5 million in 2023.

“We forecast the Philippines’ arrivals to continue increasing over the remainder of our medium-term forecast period, fully recovering by 2025 to surpass the pre-pandemic 2019 level of 8.3 million,” BMI said.

BMI further noted that by 2028, the Philippines is projected to attract 9.4 million tourists.