In just four weeks time on September 9th, the Philippines low cost carrier, Cebu Pacific, will commence long haul flights between Manila and Sydney. The carrier will begin flying between the two cities four times weekly using an A330. But this isn’t just any A330, this is the world’s most tightly configured A330 with a whopping 436 Economy seats onboard. Whilst competitive fares are guaranteed ($99 was the launch fare), comfort certainly is not.
The aircraft is configured with nine abreast seating in a 3-3-3 configuration. That gives passengers just 16.5 inches (41.9cm) between armrests, which is a 3.75-5 centimetre reduction off the standard economy configurations found in economy cabins across Australia. The seat pitch at 30 inch is approximately 2 inches less than that offered by Qantas and Virgin Australia.
The airline will be competing with other budget carriers including Jetstar, Tigerair, and Scoot. Whilst Tigerair and AirAsia have their passengers endure the world’s smallest economy seat pitch, just 28-29 inches, the flights are generally between two and three hours. Sydney to Manilla is a whopping eight hours.
Cebu pacific’s closest competition is the successful AirAsia X which also operates a tightly configured A330-300 aircraft to Australia. However, the aircraft has one – two inches more legroom compared to Cebu Pacific and it also features a small premium cabin with business class seating including lie-flat beds. Unlike Cebu Pacific’s tightly packed 436 seat aircraft, AirAsia X only carries 377 seats.
In Australia, low-cost carriers presently hold a 16.1% share of total international passenger traffic as of March 2014, with that figure expected to rise with the entry of Cebu Pacific. Although Cebu Pacific has yet to begin service to Australia, it is confident they will soon be looking to increase their capacity.
Future growth between the two countries is currently constrained by the Australia-Philippines aviation agreement. Under the current agreement, only 6000 seats per week are permitted between the two countries and that current weekly entitlement is already being used up entirely by Philippine carriers with Philippine Airlines using 4000 of those seats.
In addition to this, unconfirmed reports suggest that Philippine Airlines may be looking at expanding its Australian services as early as October. According to PAL President Ramon Ang, the airline may consider expanding services to Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin, and Brisbane. In addition, the airline may restore Perth to its existing Australian route network.
Although Philippine Airlines currently has a dominant presence in Australia, a recent downgrade in service from the airline’s Boeing 777 fleet to older A340 aircraft has left travellers less than impressed.
Unlike the 777 that is equipped with personal in-flight entertainment and video on demand, the A340 aircraft only offers mainscreen entertainment.
With Cebu Pacific’s competitive fares, it may be a hard sell to the Australian market to justify spending premium dollars to fly with the Philippine flag carrier until it truly offers a premium service.
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