Philippines AirAsia, Inc. on Tuesday said it is seeking authorization from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to participate in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

In an e-mailed statement, the low-cost airline said it had applied for regulatory approval as a carrier of dangerous goods.

The company said it had also embarked on technical training and engineering intervention “to support the vaccine cold chain.”

The airline said its personnel were trained on the preparation from ground to cargo handling of the vaccines and its cooling devices.

CAAP Chief of Staff Danjun G. Lucas told BusinessWorld by phone message that Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific are already “certified as dangerous goods handlers.”

Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., the Philippines’ vaccine czar, has said the country is expected to take delivery of at least 5.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer, Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc. this quarter.

In a separate statement, PAL said the National Task Force on Vaccine Rollout spearheaded on Tuesday a simulation exercise on vaccine handling.

“The simulation exercise covered the arrival in Manila of Philippine Airlines flight PR5655 from Riyadh at 10:10 a.m., the unloading of vaccines from the A330’s cargo compartment, the loading of the ‘shipment’ into cold storage vans and its transport to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine warehouse facility,” the flag carrier said.

A simulation exercise on the transport of vaccines to hospitals would also be conducted, the company added.

PAL has said it is ready to participate in the vaccine rollout.

Also on Tuesday, AirAsia Group Berhad released its preliminary operating statistics for the fourth quarter of 2020.

In an e-mailed statement, the Malaysia-based airline group said the fourth quarter results showed “solid rebound.”

“AirAsia is navigating its recovery phase exceptionally well as key operational metrics improved in December in comparison to September, notably with a 31% increase in passengers carried by AirAsia Thailand, doubling of passengers carried by Philippines AirAsia, while AirAsia Indonesia multiplied its number of passengers carried by a whopping 11 times,” it said. 

Such improvements “signify a solid domestic rebound for air travel demand across the group’s key operating markets,” it added.

The group — composed of units in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia — carried 23 million passengers in 2020.

It said its four units “recovered close to 60% of its pre-pandemic domestic capacity” last December.

The group’s Philippine unit carried 117,948 passengers in the fourth quarter. It had a load factor of 64%.

“On a month-to-month basis, Philippines AirAsia’s number of passengers carried doubled, while domestic operating capacity increased by 5 percentage points to 13% in December as compared with September,” it added. — Arjay L. Balinbin