Strong demand to visit friends and relatives (VFR) is driving the recovery at Philippine Airlines as the restructured carrier continues to rebuild its route network.
Speaking at Routes Asia 2022 in Da Nang, Vietnam, VP of network planning Christoph Gärtner said that long-haul markets in particular have held up well, helping to offset restrictions on flying to the likes of China, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, which accounted for a significant chunk of the airline’s network before the pandemic.
“Long-haul is leading the way for us right now,” Gärtner said during a panel discussion. “The reason for that is not business traffic but VFR. We mostly serve destinations with a large diaspora of Filipinos and that has been the backbone of our recovery.”
Philippine Airlines exited voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January—a process that involved announcing plans to cut some of its longest and least financially viable routes, including certain services to New York (JFK) and Toronto (YYZ).
However, the carrier continues to fly to both North American cities from Manila (MNL), and also serves Honolulu (HNL), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Vancouver (YVR) among others from the Philippines' primary international gateway.
Gärtner said that a major uncertainty from a network perspective remains how quickly China will reopen. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Philippine Airlines operated six routes to destinations in mainland China, with the country ranking as its fourth largest international market by capacity.
“China is the big question right now,” Gärtner said. “When will it reopen? Everybody hopes this year, but we can only guess at this stage. It’s going to be interesting from winter onwards because I believe slot waivers will be lifted.
“Manila Airport is heavily slot constrained. So, from winter onwards, we’re much, much more constrained in our planning.”
On Philippine Airlines’ international network, the carrier is currently back to about 44% of its pre-pandemic capacity. However, its domestic capacity has rebounded more quickly and is back to 74% of 2019 levels.
Data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser shows that 176,500 domestic seats are on offer across 46 routes for the week commencing June 6. This compares with 237,000 seats and 59 routes during the same week in 2019.
Earlier this month, the carrier announced plans to operate the first-ever air link within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Commencing June 9, the new Cotabato (CBO)-Tawi-Tawi (TWT) route will be served twice a week using Airbus A320 aircraft.