Seair International cleared for takeoff

Seair International investors (from left) Nikos Gitsis, Iren Dornier, and Tomas B. Lopez Jr. means BUSINESS

MANILA, Philippines – The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has finally given Seair International (Seair-I) the green light for its flight operations beginning this month.

The company’s Vice Chairman Nikos Gitsis said in an interview Seair-I is launching its maiden flight from Manila to Basco, Batanes on December 7.

“The plan is, we will fly Fridays and Mondays and we will go from there. It could become three times a week,” he said. The carrier will use a 32-seater Dornier 328 turboprop for this service.

He said the carrier will also offer a “VIP charter service early next year for domestic and international routes” using a seven-seater Falcon 10 jet.

“[Apart from the scheduled Basco flights] we will focus on charters for the time being, and we will explore and open up new destinations,” Gitsis added.

In a separate interview, Seair-I president Avelino Zapanta told the carrier’s airline operating certificate (AOC) approved last November 21 by the CAAP, is good for two years.

The signing of Seair-I’s AOC is a welcome development for tourists to Batanes as well as its residents who have been without a direct airline connection to Manila since July 2012.

The route used to be serviced by Southeast Asian Airlines Inc. which had to terminate it as part of its conversion into a low-cost carrier when Singapore budget airline Tiger Airways bought a 40-percent stake. “That means Seair Inc. can only use Airbuses,” Zapanta explained.

This encouraged Gitsis, a founder of Seair Inc. along with Iren Dornier, grandson of German aviation pioneer Claudius Dornier, as well as their Filipino partners to set up an independent carrier using turboprops – Seair-I – to handle the “leisure destinations” once held by Seair Inc. 

The Filipino partners of Seair-I which hold 60 percent of the firm include marketing guru Tomas B. Lopez Jr., Olma Inocentes, and Geraldine Olivares. The three also continue to hold the Filipino shares in Seair Inc. 

Independent operation

Gitsis stressed, however, that Seair-I is an independent operation from Seair Inc. which will soon be rebranded as “Tiger Airways Philippines.” “[The two carriers have] some common shareholders but it is not a unit of the other. Seair-I was formed to take on the turboprop division [of Seair Inc.] which was excluded in the share sale with Tiger.”

But, he added, the two carriers will “explore ways to benefit from their respective expertise and focus, but right now, Seair-I is focused on getting up and running first to Basco.”

Capitalized at P50 million, Seair-I’s foreign ownership is limited to 40 percent under Philippine law. It is held by Gitsis, a Greek-American, and Dornier a German. (Similarly, Gitsis and Dornier held a 40-percent stake in Seair Inc. which were then purchased by Tiger Airways.)

Meanwhile, Zapanta said in Seair-I’s certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) granted by the Civil Aviation Board, the carrier is allowed to fly regular scheduled flights, chartered flights, and freight cargo.

Aside from its Manila-Basco route, Seair-I will also offer El Nido as a destination. “We will set up a hub in Puerto Princesa and link other Palawan points to it,” Zapanta added. It is also considering to fly non-stop from Manila to Camiguin sometime next year.

Seair-I’s fleet is composed of one DO-328, a Boeing 737-200 freighter for cargo, with another DO-328 and 19-seater LET-410 UVP to “immediately follow,” Zapanta said. “We are studying replacement aircraft,” he stressed.

Seair Inc. converts to Tiger Air Philippines. the online reservations systems it currently uses ( will revert to Seair-I, Zapanta said. At present, all bookings for Seair Inc.’s destinations are already being handled by Tiger Air’s online reservations system.

In the medium- to long-term, Seair-I is planning to fly long-haul destinations such as the United States, Middle East, and Europe.

Follow Stella Arnaldo on Twitter @Pulitika2010