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Business

Things are looking up for Philippine Airlines

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The skies are busier, airports are seeing huge crowds again, and even if the coronavirus is still very much around, the travel bug, indeed, has bitten many a traveler.

The country’s flag carrier, Lucio Tan-owned Philippine Airlines, is reaping the benefits of the tourism industry’s recovery, says its president and COO Capt. Stanley Ng.

It is a fine morning and we are in a charming and quiet dining place that is perhaps blessed by the spirits of the Dominican friars who first arrived in the country in 1857. Its walls are surrounded by intricate pen-and-ink sketches of Philippine church façades and not far from where we sit, one could hear the rhythmic and familiar sound of the Eucharistic Celebration.

Second quarter income

But the serene vibe isn’t the only reason why Capt. Stanley looks calm and relaxed. It’s really about the positive developments happening now at PAL. The second quarter numbers look rosy, he says with a smile, but quickly adds that the final and audited report is yet to be released.

Still, this is already good news. It’s been six months since PAL successfully emerged from a Chapter 11 filing in the United States. In the first quarter, PAL registered an operating income of $33.8 million (P1.7 billion) and net comprehensive income of $22.6 million (P1.2 billion), marking PAL’s return to profitability. The last time that PAL registered positive first quarter results was in 2016.

Indeed, for the second quarter, growth was sustained as more and more passengers are traveling again, Capt. Stanley says.

This is certainly a positive development for PAL, which has had to deal with turbulent skies not too long ago — a debilitating health pandemic that practically shut down travel and tourism; financial woes and in prior years, some discombobulating shake-up.

Passenger experience

But things are, indeed, better now as the whole PAL team continues to implement changes to improve passenger experience.

What Capt. Stanley wants is to really give PAL passengers a seamless journey that starts long before they board the plane. “From the moment they book their flights on our website,” he says. Yes, that would be every passenger’s dream as well.

It’s no secret that booking flights online can sometimes be impossibly stressful, but Capt. Stanley says that in the case of PAL, vast improvements have been made — and more to come.

And if you notice a lot of agreements inked recently with partners such as the SM Group and Pilipinas Shell for PAL’s Mabuhay Miles rewards program, it’s because PAL wants its passengers to enjoy more benefits.

PAL x Chef JP Anglo

In addition, PAL is also collaborating with rock star Chef JP “Jayps” Anglo. Yes, you read that right. The well-loved Chef Jayps, Master Chef (2011 – 2012), will bring his delectable cuisine on-board.

“Soon,” Chef Jayps said in a comment on his Instagram page last month when he posted a photo with Kapitan Lucio Tan dining at Sarsa. Followers asked him if there would be a collaboration with PAL soon and that was his reply.

Speaking of Kapitan, the 88-year-old PAL chairman looked healthy and relaxed, and was smiles in the photo. Perhaps, he truly enjoyed the meal prepared by Chef Jayps — pansit molo, sizzling kansi, etc.

Headwinds

Going back to PAL, there are, indeed, many things going for the airline, but it doesn’t mean it’s all clear skies. There are still headwinds such as skyrocketing fuel prices. Like many other airlines across the globe, PAL has stopped fuel hedging, at least for now; until perhaps prices become cheaper again, but no crystal ball is able to tell when that will happen so airlines will just have to wait and see.

New airports

Hopefully, the country’s airports also improve. It’s good that President Marcos recognized the need for this, as he said in his State of the Nation Address.

Capt. Stanley said the construction of new international airports would definitely help boost tourism targets, generate economic growth, and create employment opportunities in the aviation, travel, and tourism industries.

Moving forward, Capt. Stanley, who is actually a veteran PAL insider before he was appointed president and COO, knows that there will always be challenges, especially because the airline business is cyclical and is influenced by a lot of factors.

His timing though is impeccable because his predecessor, Gilbert Santa Maria, has led PAL through a successful Chapter 11 rehabilitation process.

The task ahead

The task ahead is huge, but Capt. Stanley says PAL’s board of directors, its team of executives, and dedicated employees are all working hard to ensure the airline keeps flying high again. (It’s no coincidence that he and PAL vice chairman Lucio Tan III are among People Asia’s Men Who Matter).

Amid the challenges, Capt. Stanley’s experience as a longtime PAL pilot and head of operations has prepared him for the job, and so did completing an Advance Management Program at Harvard Business School. In fact, he left for the US the day after our chat to attend a post-course event on campus, marking the completion of the program.

Hopefully, the travel business returns to pre-pandemic levels soon, or even better, and in the case of PAL, hopefully, the heart of the Filipino keeps beating — and stronger this time — at 30,000 feet in the air.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com.

PAL

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