The Philippines is a popular destination for Chinese tourists, and the country is experiencing rapid growth amid improvements to its main international airport in Manila. But could the recent crash landing of XiamenAir flight MF8667, and organizational issues at the airport, halt China becoming the Philippines’ top market?
The XiamenAir flight, caught in heavy rain, veered off the runway at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) upon arrival in Manila just before midnight on August 16. No serious injuries were reported, but the main runway was closed for nearly two days, canceling about 200 flights. Photos from the scene showed that the engine on the left side of the plane had separated from the wing.
LOOK: Parts of the Xiamen Air aircraft lie in pieces at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. All passengers and crew are reported safe, but one of the plane’s engines had broken off during the landing #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/iCWv4PnQcY
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) August 17, 2018
Following the accident, Philippine Senator Grace Poe fumed in a newspaper interview: “One plane went off the runway and our entire international airport operations is paralyzed. What is our contingency plan for occurrences such as this? Do we have the necessary equipment to tow airplanes?” She added that while this accident may not have any economic impact, the airport’s closing would cause the country to lose respect in the international community.
NAIA, Manila’s main international airport, is often ranked among the world’s worst—although on procedural grounds rather than air-safety ones. Earlier this year, The Economist magazine included NAIA as one of the world’s worst in its “Departure Gates of Hell.” SleepingInAirports.com rated it the world’s worst airport in 2011, 2012, and 2013. It moved “up” to eighth worst in Asia in 2015. (On a brighter note, it was also voted the 10th most improved airport earlier this year according to Skytrax World Airport Awards.
The recent incident, while it follows the 2016 grounding of an EVA Air plane because the airport runway was littered with debris, comes just as Chinese tourism to the lush beach region has replaced U.S. tourism as the second-largest source of visitors to the Philippines. In the first five months of the year, the country saw a 43.8 percent annual increase in the number of Chinese visitor arrivals, according to the nation’s Department of Tourism. The total number of Chinese tourists was 559,289.
Moreover, Philippine officials are betting China may soon take the number-one spot. Philippine House of Representatives member Lito Atienza predicted in a statement, “In a matter of months, we could see China dislodging South Korea as our number-one supplier of foreign tourists.”
As for the most recent incident, the flight departed Xiamen, a coastal city in mainland China, Thursday evening on the brief two-and-a-half-hour journey. XiamenAir, which has a solid safety record, posted a message on its official Weibo account stating, “On August 16, 2018, XiamenAir flight MF8667 Xiamen-Manila, experienced a runway incident when landing at Manila Airport at 23:55 Beijing time, the crew quickly launched the emergency evacuation procedure, 157 passengers and 8 crewmembers on board were all evacuated safely and no one was injured.”
The Chinese carrier reportedly offered its “sincerest apologies” over the airport closure, according to a Filipino official on Monday.