Asian Spirit a 10-year-old airline serving 25 destinations in the Philippines received unanimous and enthusiastic approval this week at a Department of Commerce public hearing and a meeting with community leaders and is expected to begin flying to Palau from Davao in the southern Philippines April 2.

The flight to Davao three days a week with a convenient connecting flight to Manila will provide tourists from such major areas as Japan Taiwan China and the U.S. with another route to Palau.

The service will add to the flights already provided by Continental Airlines. Continental serves Palau daily from Guam and two times a week from Manila.

Dermot Keane general manager of Sam’s Tours and a member of the Board of Directors of the Palau Chamber of Commerce; said the advent of the new air service will be a tremendous boon to the tourist industry and the economy of Palau.

“This is a significant and very positive development for many of our European customers who like to ‘island-hop’ between our dive resort partners in the Philippines and Palau ” Keane said. Sam’s Tours is part of a dive resort alliance of six resorts including Pinjalo Diver Resort in Boracay.

The flights also provide convenient and less expensive transportation home for the large population of Filipino workers in Palau and access to a medical facilities and retail markets for Palau residents and businesses.

Flights to Davao the third largest city in the Philippines and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations will take about 90 minutes and will cost about $150 Jack Po executive vice-president said. A connecting flight on to Manila will be about another $150 although final rates have not been set.

Butch Rodriguez commercial vice-president said Asian Spirit flights will leave Palau three times per week Monday Wednesday and Friday at 3:30 a.m. arriving at Davao at 4 a.m. (with a one hour time difference). Return flights will be offered Tuesday Thursday and Sunday evenings leaving Davao at 9 p.m. and arriving in Palau about 11:30 p.m.

Palau is investigating ways to increase its air links to other countries for several years. A private airline Palau Micronesia Air was created in 2004 supported by a group of businessmen including Sen. Alan R. Sied senate floor leader and chairman of the Ways and Means and Financial Matters Committee. The airline halted operations later that same year. Palau Air began looking at alternatives and developed the relationship with Asian Spirit.

“This is our first international venture ” Po said. “We’ve been asked why Palau instead of Hong Kong or another major Asian city. Number one we believe in the market of Palau. Number two with all of the carriers that fly into major destinations we can’t compete and they won’t support us. We need them but they don’t need us. In Palau the government has been very supportive. They need us as much as we need them.” The airline should receive final government permits in the first week of March week to begin service.

Asian Spirit has specialized in flying to areas most of the larger airlines do not service. The airline began in 1996 with one plane and one flight to Boracay a renowned island resort Boracay in Western Visayas south of Manila. It has grown to 13 planes serving 25 destinations including 16 flights per day to Boracay. “In a way Boracay has made us as much as we’ve made them ” Po said of the mutually rewarding relationship with the island.

The company has the capability to add more flights to Palau as demand increases. The plane a 100-seat British Aerospace (BAe) 146 jetliner must be 65% full for the company to break even financially Po said. He hopes service to Palau will grow much the way service to Boracay has grown. MBJ