Making a legacy

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2013 - 12:00am

TOULOUSE — For almost a year that I have not traveled abroad, it was indeed a surprise, if not amazing, to come across the latest advancement in aviation technology. As a standard operating procedure before takeoff or landing of aircraft, passengers are usually advised, among other things, against the use of any electronic equipment or gadgets.

This is, of course, for the safety of the flight as the use of gadgets may interfere with the aircraft‘s own electronic system.

But not anymore. In fact, passengers are now even allowed to browse and surf the internet of their laptops or even iPads. At least, that’s how passengers of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) are now enjoying such relaxed rules on the use of electronic gadgets at any moment of the flight. It turns out that even pilots are using iPads to steer the latest state of the art aircraft of Airbus.

The latest innovation of PAL is making sure to meet the needs of passengers, including access to the fastest means of communication and information technology. Only last July, the flag carrier introduced their ‘novel’ service called PAL iN AIr that allows their passengers to make calls using their cellular phones and browse the internet while in flight.

The use of this cutting edge connectivity was tested during the inaugural flight of PAL’s Manila to Vancouver on board the Boeing 777-300 ER. This was made possible by the installation of the connectivity equipment called GSM ConneX. This special connectivity hardware will be progressively fitted in all PAL’s long-range aircraft in both Boeing 777 and Airbus A330-343 planes.

PAL president Ramon S. Ang proudly cited the fact that the country’s premier legacy carrier is the first commercial airline installed with the GSM ConneX supplied by TriaGnoSys. The OnAir, on the other hand, is the supplier for GSM and WiFi connection. Aside from connectivity, the GSM ConneX platform was designed to host a wide range of software application modules, including entertainment and non-flight cockpit applications.

“Allowing our passengers to call and surf the web while flying is another first only a legacy carrier like PAL can offer,” Ang stressed. â€œThis new service is part of our strategy to provide only the best to our customers,” Ang pointed out. Ang vows to make PAL, as the country’s legacy carrier, soar once more among the leading airlines of Asia.

It is no empty boast from Ang who is acknowledged as the man behind the country’s biggest consumer conglomerate San Miguel Corp. which now owns 49 percent of PAL. The 51 percent is retained by Filipino-Chinese taipan Lucio Tan.

With new budget carriers now operating in the Philippines, both local and foreign-owned, PAL must come up with innovative schemes to keep its loyal customers to patronize their legacy carrier.

This latest flyer-friendly innovation of PAL is also installed in the newly delivered Airbus A330-300 whose turnover we witnessed here in Toulouse. The A330-300 delivery signaled the next phase of acquisition of more wide-body aircraft of PAL‘s comprehensive fleet upgrading program. Over the last twelve months, we were told, PAL has taken in delivery of the new Boeing 777-300, followed by two Airbus 321 one after the other last August.

A few months after SMC acquired control of PAL, Ang embarked on this ambitious fleet upgrade with initial 65 aircraft worth $9.5 billion were ordered. It was the largest aircraft purchase made in Philippine history with deliveries coming in until 2019. Now on its 72nd year since it started, the new management of PAL steered by Ang sets its vision to further widen its routes from the current 35 international and 30 domestic destinations.

In fact, the newly delivered Airbus 330-300 that would fly us back to Manila will have its “commercial debut” on PAL’s inaugural flight to Abu Dhabi this October 1. This will mark the return of the country‘s flag carrier to the Middle East. The next routes in the Middle East that will be serviced by PAL in the next few months will also include Dubai, Doha, Riyadh and Dammam.

The latest acquisition of this plane was specifically earmarked for PAL’s Middle East route, according to Ang, for the benefit of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to return home to their loved ones flying on board our country’s flag carrier. To this particular market of PAL, Ang announced the plane was custom-fitted to take in more OFWs to fly home comfortably and already in touch with their loved ones while in flight already.

The Airbus 330-300 plane can accommodate 414 passengers, configured into two classes – Premium Economy Class with 39 seats and Economy with 375 seats. The only difference is that the Premium Economy Class, besides being priced higher, has a pitch of 34 inches to provide more knee and leg room and lumbar support. Seats have also a multi-position headrest. The Economy Class has a pitch of 30 to 31 inches giving passengers almost the same comfortable travel.

On November 4, PAL is scheduled to launch its return to the European travel market with the inaugural flight to London via PAL’s Boeing 777 plane. Later PAL will re-establish its presence also in Rome, Paris and Amsterdam. This is now happening after the European Union lifted the restrictions to our air carriers following satisfactory compliance by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on safety concerns.

When we arrived here in Toulouse, we actually saw four more Airbus planes parked outside the Blagnac airport bearing the PAL tail sign showing the familiar yellow stretched sun rays. But we were told the planes’ cabins are still under completion. In the guided tour of the huge Airbus complex, we were later shown two more Airbus A330-300 planes — also painted with PAL markings — though still in assembly line.

From our briefing, we learned it takes a minimum of eleven months to complete the assembly of one Airbus 330-300 in accordance with the specifications of the buyer.

We gathered that PAL’s local competitors like Cebu Pacific has recently placed order also of this particular Airbus plane. Lance Gokongwei who runs their family-owned carrier recently announced expansion plans of Cebu Pacific to fly more international routes in countries with high concentration of OFWs.

But PAL counts its edge over competitors with its long years of partnership with Airbus that goes back 35 years, Ismael Augusto Gozon, senior vice president of airline operations of PAL, declared in his brief acceptance remarks at the formal turnover rites. Gozon recalled PAL was the first airline in Southeast Asia to order its very first Airbus aircraft in 1978.

Or this was barely four years after A300 went into commercial production. Such gesture underscored PAL’s faith in Airbus at a time when only a few airlines dared to consider it good business to do so, Gozon added.

Gozon cited Airbus as a solid partner of PAL through these years in every fleet renewal program undertaken by the flag carrier. He said the latest A330-300 plane is “destined to be a game changer for PAL” that will enable the carrier to open and enter new frontiers of world class standards for safety and convenience of air travel. That is how PAL makes its legacy!


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