Philippine Airlines delivers more competitive offer into key markets

Asian flag carrier Philippine Airlines has confirmed plans to reconfigure more than half of its fleet of Airbus A330-300 widebodies to enhance its service offer across many of its routes. This will see the airline reduce its fleet capacity by around 850 seats, but introduce an upgraded onboard product to allow it to better compete with international rivals across the Far East and into Oceania and North America.

Philippine Airlines is currently an operator of one of the most densely configured A330-300 layouts - a 414-seat offer special developed to serve trunk routes such as between Manila and markets in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East as well as domestic and regional markets. It took delivery of eight aircraft in this configuration between September 2013 and March 2014, providing five rows and 39 seats of premium economy (with a 3 inch additional pitch) at the front of the cabin and 375 seats of economy in the rear.

This concept was developed under the airline’s former ownership regime to position it more as a hybrid low-cost carrier to compete with its fast-expanding local rival Cebu Pacific. However, it is now seeking to reposition itself as a premium operator and develop a more modest but more sustainable operation. This will see these aircraft reconfigured this year into a 309-seat arrangement, including a modern business class offer.

“As we journey on to becoming a five-star, world-class, full service carrier with a heart, we devote our efforts towards enhancing the total travel experience. Our cabin reconfiguration efforts combined with meticulous seat and IFE selection are in line with our goal to make each and every flight pleasant, comfortable and convenient,” said Jaime J Bautista, president and chief operating officer, Philippine Airlines.

Although a less dense configuration would result in capacity reductions on certain routes, it will vastly improve the passenger experience and customer satisfaction on board the airline’s flights and notably will enable Philippine Airlines to offer a premium product once again across all medium-haul routes.

The newly configured aircraft will have an 18-seat business class cabin, a more spacious 24-seat premium economy cabin that offers a new wider seat to differentiate the cabin from its standard offer and 267 economy seats. It will make its debut in passenger operation on the Manila – Honolulu route from June before being introduced to Melbourne in July, Sydney in August, Singapore in September, Tokyo Haneda in October, Tokyo Narita in November and Osaka in December.

Data from intelligence provider OAG shows that Philippine Airlines faces competition on all but two of these routes, with Manila – Honolulu and Manila – Melbourne the only markets where it is the exclusive operator. It currently uses an A330-200 on the Melbourne route and an A340-300 on the Honolulu link.

In the Manila - Sydney market, the airline competes with Cebu Pacific and Qantas; with Cebu Pacific, Jetstar Asia, Singapore Airlines and Tiger Airways on Manila- Singapore; Cebu Pacific, Jetstar Asia and Jetstar Japan on Manila – Osaka; All Nippon Airways on Manila – Tokyo Haneda and All Nippon Airways, Cebu Pacific, Delta Airlines, Japan Airlines and Jetstar Japan on Manila – Tokyo Narita.

It currently deploys a mix of aircraft on these routes, but in the most part will represent a capacity boost once the newly configured A330-300s are introduced. OAG Schedules Analyser displays an A321 operation to Singapore, A321s and A330-200s to the two Tokyo airports, an A330-200 to Osaka and an A340-300 to Sydney.

The reconfigured aircraft will operate alongside seven 368-seat A330-300s that concluded the airline’s order for the type and were delivered from April 2014. These are configured with 18 business class, 27 premium economy and 323 economy seats. Alongside the product improvements, these will mainly differ from the reconfigured aircraft by having a nine-abreast economy offer (3-3-3) versus the eight-abreast (2-4-2) version joining the fleet.

The A330s still have a potential long service life with Philippine Airlines and will be supported by the arrival of six A350-900s, the first four of which will arrive in 2018. This aircraft will enable to operate Manila – New York direct, something the airline is regularly highlighting in its marketing correspondence. It has been serving the US city via Vancouver since March 2015, currently utilising a Boeing 777-300ER.

Philippine Airlines revealed its the ‘Heart of the Filipino’ marketing campaign and corporate vision last year just after Routes Asia 2016 as it celebrated its 75th anniversary of its foundation. It plans to become a five-star airline within five years and rejoin the league of the world's best airlines.

Its fleet renewal and expansion has enabled Philippine Airlines to significantly boost its operations since 2014. After a modest 3.0 per cent capacity growth year-on-year in 2014, it reported rises of 51.9 per cent in 2015 and 16.1 per cent last year, mainly buoyed by domestic gains, but also the continued growth of its international network. The data, from intelligence provider OAG, suggests its inventory will grow by more than a fifth in 2017, based on published schedules, with a 21.7 per cent domestic and 23.8 per cent international capacity growth delivering a 22.7 per cent rise for the year.

The schedule data suggests that 2017 will be the first year that the airline will deliver more than ten million scheduled seats in both the domestic and international markets, although the A330 reconfiguration project will see both its domestic and international offer decline as the 414-seat A330 is substituted with other aircraft.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…