Philippine budget carrier Cebu Pacific announced Tuesday it would next year launch long-haul flights to destinations beyond East Asia, targeting millions of Filipinos working abroad.
The airline will lease eight Airbus A330-300 planes to commence long-haul flights, Cebu Pacific president Lance Gokongwei told reporters, with possible destinations including Saudi Arabia, Australia and Hawaii.
Gokongwei said Cebu Pacific planned to charge fares 35 percent lower than its rivals, which would particularly appeal to the estimated 11 million Filipinos who work abroad, often in low-paying jobs such as maids or sailors.
“There is a huge, under-served market out there,” Gokongwei said, referring to the Filipino diaspora that equates to about 10 percent of the country’s population.
Gokongwei said the high cost of air travel meant most overseas Filipino workers could only afford to return home every two or three years.
“But now, they will be able to come home three or four times a year,” he said.
Gokongwei said the expansion is aimed at encouraging more people to fly rather than luring passengers away from competitors.
“Cebu Pacific’s (aim is) not to grab market share but to stimulate markets,” he said.
Gokongwei said the airline was keen to tap the Middle East market, with 2.5 million Filipinos working there, and stressing that there were few direct flights from the Philippines to the region.
The farthest Cebu Pacific’s current fleet — comprising mainly of A320 planes — are capable of flying is to destinations such as Beijing which is about five hours from Manila.
The A330-300s can fly for 11 hours, which would enable the airline to offer flights to destinations like Saudi Arabia, Australia and Hawaii, Gokongwei and other company officials said.
But they emphasised no specific routes would be announced until regulatory approval was finalised.
The lease of eight Airbus A330s comes on top of Cebu Pacific’s orders last year for 23 Airbus A320 jets and 30 longer-haul Airbus A321neo jets. However the first of the A321neo planes are not due to be delivered until 2017.
Gokongwei declined to say how much the lease of the eight new A330-300 planes would cost.
Cebu Pacific started flying in 1996, using low-cost fares on no-frills flights to attract passengers.
It has since passed national flag-carrier Philippine Airlines to become the country’s number-one airline in terms of passenger numbers.