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Freeman Cebu Business

Flag carrier deems Cebu vital hub as airline expands flights

Carlo S. Lorenciana - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Cebu will continue to be an important hub for Philippine Airlines (PAL) especially in the expansion of its international and domestic flights in the next few years, officials said.

Harry Inoferio, senior assistant vice president for Philippine sales, said "Cebu is a big hub for PAL" and is deemed important in its route expansion to both global and domestic destinations. 

 PAL is set to start its first long-haul direct flight to Los Angeles from Cebu on March 15, 2016 using its 254-seat Airbus A340-300. The trice-weekly service further expands the flag carrier's international flight route network to the US mainland, responding to market demand.

 In a statement, PAL President Jaime J. Bautista said travelers from Visayas and Mindanao may take the new service through its domestic flights to Cebu. Bautista also expects travelers from LA who need to fly to Cebu for business or leisure to benefit from the new service.

 Inoferio said the new flight, which departs Cebu every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and leaves LA back to Cebu on the same days, will bring in more tourists and business travelers to Cebu. 

 "Cebu plays a big portion in our total operations," he said.

 Ryan Uy, vice president for sales, said they had received a good feedback from the US market on the new service during a roadshow there as several travelers want to directly arrive in Cebu due to its convenience than having to pass through Manila.

 Uy said they had also received requests for a direct flight from San Francisco to Cebu. "Our feedback was we need to take it slowly. It's part of the long-term plan. Who wouldn't want to have more long-haul flights from Cebu?" Uy said in a press conference Tuesday.

 Uy pointed out there's still a lot of potential to tap the mainstream market in the US, luring citizens there to travel to Cebu.

 Patria Roa, former director of the Department of Tourism in Region 7, expressed hope that PAL would revive its Cebu-Sydney route and further connect Cebu to more domestic destinations.

 Uy responded that a direct flight from Cebu to Australia is possible but it's still a question of when and the availability of a "right aircraft" to serve the route. He added he had talk to Australia's tourism head who requested for a direct flight from Perth to Cebu.

 Company officials also said there is a plan to connect Cebu to more domestic destinations such as General Santos, Zamboanga, Cotabato and Laoag, among others. Currently, PAL has flights from Cebu to Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan, Davao, Tacloban and Butuan.

Internationally, PAL's Cebu hub also operates flights from Cebu to Japan's Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo and to Seoul, South Korea.

 In an earlier interview, Andrew Acquaah-Harrison, chief executive advisor of GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp., said the firm wants to connect Cebu directly to more key global destinations. GMCAC is the private operator of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

 "We are working with airlines to both increase frequency [in flights] and open even more routes," Harrison said.

 On March 30, Dubai-based Emirates Airline is also launching its daily Dubai-Cebu-Clark circular service in the Philippines. Also starting on March are Xiamen Air's direct flight from Cebu to Xiamen, China and Eva Air's Cebu-Taipei-Cebu route.

 PAL Holdings, the listed operator of PAL, saw its net income rising by 2,465 percent to P6.11 billion in the first nine months of 2015. Its revenues increased 11 percent to P81.98 billion. 

Boosting fleet

PAL is expecting the delivery of seven aircraft this year, which are expected to augment its long-haul fleet.

 Uy revealed on Tuesday the flag carrier is receiving five A321 narrow-bodied aircraft and two Boeing 777-300ER this year.

 PAL Spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said the two new Boeing planes are slated to be delivered by October or November this year, which can be utilized for its other international routes.

 Villaluna said the airline currently has six Boeing 777-300ER. PAL has a fleet of more than 76 aircraft.

 Previous reports quoted PAL President Jaime Bautista as saying the company is set to spend around $500 to $700 million for the seven aircraft.

 Uy also said that PAL is likely to announce this week at the Singapore Airshow its deal to secure other six brand new generation long-haul aircraft.

 The deal for six Airbus A350-900 jets was earlier reported to have a value of $1.8 billion.

 Uy said the flag carrier's average fleet age is 3.8 years old, which is already young by industry standards.

 Shares of PAL's parent firm, PAL Holdings, closed at P4.50 per share on Tuesday. (FREEMAN)

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