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UPDATE: PAL postpones relaunch of New Delhi flights

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is postponing the reopening of its direct flights from Manila to New Delhi due to the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan.

“Philippine Airlines is temporarily suspending the launch of our Manila-New Delhi-Manila service until further notice. We are constrained to take this step as news of India-Pakistan border tensions has prompted many travellers to cancel bookings and defer their travel plans,” the flag carrier said in a social media post late Tuesday.

In January, PAL announced it is reopening its Manila-New Delhi route in April, almost eight years after canceling it in 2011 due to the slim market then.

Aviation think-tank Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said in a January report the reopening of the route is more viable for PAL now, as the market linking the Philippines to India has grown twice its size over the past five years.

“India is a strategically important new market for PAL and the Philippines overall. India is the largest source market for the Philippines that does not currently have any nonstop services,” the Australia-based firm said.

Data from the Department of Tourism shows India is the Philippines’ 12th largest market in terms of visitor volume at 92,589 during the first nine months of 2018, growing 14.63% from 80,770 in the same period in 2017.

PAL was supposed to offer four-times-weekly flights between Manila and New Delhi using its brand-new Airbus A321neo (new engine option) aircraft, which has a capacity of 244 seats.

But tensions have been high between India and Pakistan since February, started by a suicide bombing incident in the disputed state Kashmir that resulted to numerous deaths. It has since sparked an exchange of attacks between the two countries.

Passengers who may have bought tickets for the Manila-New Delhi service can choose to travel to another regional destination instead, or avail a refund. PAL said it will make a new announcement “once a new start date is finalized.”

CAPA-Center for Aviation said in a report on Wednesday that Indian visitors to the Philippines had more than doubled to 107,000 since 2013, when PAL suspended flights to the Indian capital of New Delhi.

“The prospects for PAL in the Indian market are much brighter this time around. The Manila-Delhi market—and the overall Philippines-India market—has more than doubled over the past five years, making a nonstop service more viable,” CAPA said.

The use of its brand-new Airbus A320neos will also make the route more sustainable, it added.

PAL, CAPA said, had operated widebody planes such as its A330s and A340s for India—a decision that made the flights unviable. PAL’s nonstop flights to Delhi were scrapped in 2011 while its one-stop flights via Bangkok were suspended in 2013.

Pending regulatory approval, the airline intends to fly from Manila to New Delhi in India by the second week of April.