High-Density Flying from the Philippines

As low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific Air accepted delivery of the most-densely configured Airbus A330-300 in Toulouse, France this past week, it emerged that its local rival Philippines Airlines is planning to develop a similar business model on some of its medium- and long-haul routes to specific markets after confirming details of an all-Economy layout for some of its own A330-300 jets.

The Filipino national carrier will initially introduce its new high-density A330-300 on its new route from Manila to Abu Dhabi from October 2013.  This service, which commences on October 1, 2013, was due to be flown with a dual-class A340-300 but the carrier now confirms it will use its newly configured A330-300s instead.  The aircraft will feature a nine-abreast all-Economy arrangement with seating for 414 passengers in a 3-3-3 arrangement.  Philippine Airlines’ existing Economy arrangement in its dual-class A330-300s is an eight-abreast design, arranged 2-4-2.

Philippine Airlines will also use the aircraft to launch a six times weekly service between Manila and Doha from November 2013 (it also plans to offer flights to the Qatar capital from Clark, albeit using a two-class aircraft), while the all-Economy aircraft will also support the airline’s return to the Saudi Arabian market in December 2013. 

The carrier will offer three initial routes from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport – a six times weekly route to Riyadh (a market last served in March 2011), a four times weekly route to Jeddah (last flown in July 1998) and a three times weekly service to Dammam (flown last in August 2001).  It is understood that the all-Economy flights could all be flown under the PAL Express brand to differentiate the service levels from the carrier’s existing long-haul flights but this still remains just a consideration at this time.

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific Air took delivery of the first of four A330-300s it will acquire from lessor CIT at the Airbus Delivery Centre at its Toulouse Blagnac facility on June 13, 2013 as it begins its first expansion into long-haul markets.  The aircraft will initially be used on medium-haul regional routes before opening direct daily flights between Manila and Dubai from October 7, 2013.  The low-cost carrier, already the largest domestic operator in the Asian country, is planning a significant expansion in the international market, driven by a growth into medium- and long-haul markets.

Cebu Pacific has signed a firm deal to lease eight A330-300s and is scheduled to receive two examples during the current calendar year.  A further two aircraft are due to follow in 2014 and with a range of up to eleven hours opens up direct flight options to markets such as Australia, Middle East, parts of Europe and the US.  Only one aircraft is required to perform the Dubai service suggesting a second long-haul destination could be added to the Cebu Pacific network before the end of the year with strong rumours it could be the Qatar capital, Doha.  The Filipino carrier is configuring its A330-300s in an all-Economy layout of around 436 seats with a 31-inch pitch, the highest seat density of any A330 in the world.

Both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific are targeting the cost conscious migrant Filipino worker for these low-cost, long-haul services.  Since its inception in 1996, Cebu Pacific has successfully shown it can stimulate growth in the short-haul markets it serves, especially to markets where a large number of Filipinos work or reside.  Approximately eleven million Filipinos are estimated to reside abroad, around one in ten members of the population.  Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) shows that Saudi Arabia and UAE rank as the top two destinations in terms of the number of land-based new hires and rehires of Filipino workers.