Monday, July 25, 2016

Completion of Bicol International Airport Delayed to August 2018

Completing the Bicol International Airport remains a top priority for Former Albay Governor Joey Salceda as he takes on his new role as the newly elected representative of Albay's second congressional district. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in July 2017, but was delayed to August 2018 due to the failure of the previous administration to award contracts.

Image Source: Business World Online
Earlier this year, Salceda wrote to former Department of Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya requesting to expedite the awarding of the contract for phase 2A of the Bicol International Airport, which includes the construction of landside facilities. 

Lawmakers in Bicol have remained frustrated over the past months as on-going delays "due to technicalities" continue to cost the region billions of pesos in opportunity losses from what would be increased tourism and enhanced economic activity.

The new airport is expected to trigger economic growth in the Bicol region, as the new airport delivers a safe, economical, and faster way of reaching local and international destinations. The P4.7 billion project is currently under construction in Daraga, Albay. It will feature a 13,320 square meter two-storey passenger terminal and separate cargo facility. 

Salceda expects that the development of the new airport will bring approximately five million tourists to the region by 2025, investments totalling nearly US$1 billion, and 235,000 jobs within the next decade.

The Bicol International Airport, coupled with two other infrastructure projects, the South Luzon Expressway extension and the South Luzon Railway, are all expected to transform Bicol into a new investment haven in southern Luzon.

The City of Naga has also faced delays with improvements to its airport. Naga is not expected to see completion of an airport expansion project until 2019. Last year, the National Economic and Development Authority approved an expansion of the terminal building and runway re-orientation to accommodate larger jets. 

However, the airport expansion project caused the demise of another project originally announced in 2012 to install a P50 million airfield lighting system that would have enabled Naga Airport to conduct night flight operations and expand the current number of flights to the city. The decision cost the city millions of pesos in lost economic activity and tourism growth as Naga has been forced to wait until 2019 before it can realize any growth through its airport.

Meanwhile, as the seventeenth Congress is slated to begin on July 25, incoming Senate President Aquilino Pimentel has placed the development of the country's two major international airports at the top of his agenda. Pimentel stated earlier this week that he will push for the development of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the Clark International Airport. 

"We need the two airports as our main international gateways," said Pimentel. "NAIA to serve South Metro Manila and Southern Luzon to Bicol, and Clark to serve North Metro Manila and Northern Philippines, to ease travel and flow of logistics."

Philippine Carriers Fail to Impress at World Airline Awards

Long considered the "Oscars of the aviation industry," the World Airline Awards highlight the best airlines across a number of categories representing the global benchmark in airline excellence. Dubai-based Emirates clinched the top spot as the World's Best Airline for 2016, while Philippine Airlines finished in 83rd place.

air asia best low cost airline
Image Source: Skytrax
Although Philippine Airlines improved its ranking from the 2015 World Airline Awards where it finished in 87th place, Philippine carriers failed to impress in any of the categories at the 2016 ceremony. 

At the 2016 World Airline Awards, two Gulf carriers claimed the top two places, while Singapore Airlines finished in third place.

The World's Top Ten Airlines in 2016
  1. Emirates 
  2. Qatar Airways 
  3. Singapore Airlines 
  4. Cathay Pacific 
  5. ANA 
  6. Etihad Airways 
  7. Turkish Airlines 
  8. EVA Air 
  9. Qantas Airways 
  10. Lufthansa
When rated according to region, Philippine Airlines did not make the list of the Best Airlines in Asia for 2016 either, while Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and All Nippon Airways claimed the top three spots.

The Best Airlines in Asia
  1. Singapore Airlines 
  2. Cathay Pacific 
  3. ANA All Nippon Airways 
  4. EVA Air 
  5. Garuda Indonesia 
  6. Hainan Airlines 
  7. Thai Airways 
  8. Asiana Airlines 
  9. Bangkok Airways 
  10. Japan Airlines
In the category for "Best Transpacific Airline," which assesses carriers operating routes between Asia/Australasia and North/South America based on the quality of their product and staff service, Taiwan-based EVA Air clinched the top spot, followed by ANA of Japan and Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong.

The Best Transpacific Airlines
  1. EVA Air 
  2. ANA All Nippon Airways 
  3. Cathay Pacific
Meanwhile, in the best low-cost airline category, AirAsia clinched the top spot for the eighth consecutive year, while Norwegian was named best long haul low-cost airline. The awards are based on a customer satisfaction assessment of product and staff service.

Best Low-Cost Airlines in Asia
  1. AirAsia 
  2. AirAsiaX 
  3. Indigo 
  4. Jetstar Asia 
  5. Scoot 
  6. Peach 
  7. Tigerair Singapore 
  8. SpiceJet 
  9. Spring Airlines 
  10. Nok Air
According to Air Asia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, in spite of receiving the coveted award for an eighth consecutive year, his airline intends to continue improving its customer service, while introducing new technologies that make flying easier. "We can be better," said Fernandes. "We want to improve our customer service, including how we communicate with our customers." Air Asia has affiliates in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and the Philippines.

Although Cebu Pacific did not place in the top-ten low-cost airlines in Asia, it did place in fifth place in the Best Low-Cost Airlines in Australia/Pacific category.

Best Low-Cost Airlines in Australia/Pacific
  1. Jetstar Airways 
  2. AirAsiaX 
  3. Scoot 
  4. Tigerair Australia 
  5. Cebu Pacific
Each year, travellers from around the world participate in the world's largest airline passenger satisfaction survey to determine the winners. With more than 19 million customers from 104 nationalities surveyed around the world, assessing standards in 41 key performance indicators, the Skytrax world airline awards are widely considered the Passengers Choice awards for airline performance.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Air Asia Orders 100 Airbus A321neo Aircraft

AirAsia and Airbus have announced a firm order for 100 Airbus A321neo aircraft at the 2016 Farnborough Airshow. The move represents a shift away from AirAsia's exclusive fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft as the carrier attempts to meet growing demand at congested airports in Asia.

airasia a321
Image Source: Airbus
AirAsia is currently the largest operator of Airbus single aisle aircraft. With the announcement of an additional 100 aircraft, AirAsia has ordered a total of 575 A320 family aircraft from Airbus. Currently, Airbus has delivered more than 170 A320 aircraft to the AirAsia family including its affiliates in Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines. However, this is the first order for the 240-seat Airbus A321 aircraft placed by the Asian budget carrier, recently voted World's Best Low-Cost Airline for the eighth consecutive year.

AirAsia plans to use the aircraft to increase capacity, while enjoying the lowest operating costs in the single aisle aircraft category by leveraging the increased efficiency and higher capacity of the A321neo on high-density routes. Currently, AirAsia's A320 fleet seats 180 passengers. The new version of the A321neo has the ability to seat up to 240 passengers, which will provide AirAsia with 33% more capacity that will enable the carrier to optimise service on high-density routes.

According to AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, the carrier  recorded a robust load factor in the first quarter of 2016 and it is believed that the positive momentum will continue well into the future. "AirAsia Group currently operates close to 1,000 flights per day to more than 120 destinations in 24 countries. The A321neo will help us to meet ongoing strong demand as well as further reduce our cost per Available Seat Kilometre across the group, which will translate to lower air fares for our guests," said Fernandes. 

Congestion at airports in Southeast Asia remains a major problem for carriers that are trying to meet growing demand. This is especially evident at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, where slots are at a premium due to their limited availability. This has triggered both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, the nation's largest low-cost carrier, to also place orders for the larger A321 aircraft. 

Meanwhile, AirAsia Philippines faces a similar problem in that the only way it can expand capacity in Manila is to increase the size of aircraft it utilises on existing flights, as increasing the number of flights out of Manila is not possible at this time. That makes it highly likely that some of the new A321 aircraft ordered by AirAsia will be headed for the carrier's Philippine unit.

"The A321neo will be operated on our most popular routes and especially at airports with infrastructure constraints. It will allow us to bring higher passenger volumes with the same slots, therefore providing immediate benefits to the airports. These include, among others, more efficient operations, higher revenues from passenger service charges, and more airport retail purchases. We will also continue to maintain our 25-minute turnaround with two or three-step boarding where permitted to ensure on-time performance," added Fernandes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Change is in the Air: Philippine President Flies Economy

Maintaining his simplistic lifestyle, President Duterte set yet another example as the country's chief executive when he boarded a commercial flight from Manila to Davao last week. The new President of the Philippines shunned all special treatment at Ninoy Aquino International Airport including the use of the Presidential private jet as he walked through security just like a regular passenger.

president duterte
Photo Credit: Presidential Photographers Division/King Rodriguez
In an article published in the Philippine Star, photos released by the Presidential Communications Office showed President Duterte seated in Premium Economy Class aboard a Philippine Airlines flight bound for Davao. Duterte sat at a window seat aboard flight PR1825 that departed Manila at 9:00pm last Thursday night.

Other photos showed Duterte walking through the x-ray and metal scanners, raising his arms for inspection, just like a regular passenger as he walked to his boarding gate at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2. 

duterte humble president
Photo Credit: Presidential Photographers Division/King Rodriguez
Passengers at the airport cheered as they observed Duterte enter the building, passing through the regular security check as a common Filipino citizen. In his first cabinet meeting following his inauguration on June 30, Duterte instructed all of his Cabinet members to shun priority treatment at the airports. "We should treat ourselves just like any other Filipino travelling," said the Philippine President. 

In addition, Duterte made it clear that he does not want any government officials, especially Cabinet members, flying Business Class while travelling. Duterte also plans to remove the presidential no-fly zone when he flies in and out of the country's main gateway. In the past, the no-fly zone has caused disruption and delay at the airport to the frustration and inconvenience of passengers.

philippine government aircraft
"The Presidential Jet"
Image Source: Global Aviation Resource
Duterte's special assistant Christopher Go and members of the Presidential Security Group accompanied Duterte on the Philippine Airlines flight. The President was on his way to attend the Hari Raya Festival in Davao.

President Duterte intends to split his work week between Manila and Davao City. Duterte is the nation's sixteenth President. He is known for his simple living in spite of serving as Mayor of Davao for twenty-three years.

References: Philippine Star
 

New Transportation Secretary Seeks Support of Airlines for Airport Maintenance

The Duterte administration is beginning to make changes at the country's primary international gateway as it seeks to shed its reputation as one of the world's worst airports. The nation's new Transportation Secretary, Arthur Tugade, has sought the help of airlines operating at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila to maintain the public restrooms at all terminals.

Image Source: Inviva Link
According to Tugade, the company that originally won the bidding to maintain the airport's utilities has been performing below the standards necessary to maintain a quality service, which triggered the new Transportation Secretary to make changes.

"One of the basic problems which irritated the community is the issue of maintenance of the washrooms and utilities inside the airport. So it has come to me that one way to approach this is to remove the activity from government and give it to the people that are operating in the airport," Tugade said. The plan now is to remove the existing company from government service and transfer maintenance of the facilities to the private sector, led by the nation's top airlines.

On July 7, Philippine carriers were asked to sign a memorandum of agreement indicating that they would accept responsibility for improving and maintaining the airport's toilets and utilities. The airlines welcomed the decision, which came as a surprise to Tugade given that it would mean increased costs for the nation's carriers.

"I asked Mr. Lance (Gokongwei, CEO of Cebu Pacific), sabi ko, 'Sir puwede ho bang humingi ng tulong?' At sabi niya, 'You know Art just ask for help and my company and group of companies will extend our support and cooperation,'" Tugade said. "That was the same situation when I talked to other airlines." he added.

The airlines that signed the Memorandum of Agreement include Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, AirAsia Philippines, PAL Express, Cebgo, and Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions. The signatories included the following:

  • Cebu Pacific President and CEO Lance Gokongwei
  • Philippine Airlines President and COO Jaime Bautista
  • AirAsia Philippines COO Capt. Dexter Comendador
  • PAL Express President Bonifacio Sam
  • Cebgo President and CEO Michael Ivan Shau
  • Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions AVP Leah de Guzman Jore.

Tugade added that the entire experience was positive as it demonstrated cooperation between the airlines and the new government. "Napakaganda nitong experience at ceremony na ito because it shows how far the business community is willing to show the support and cooperation to the Duterte administration," Tugade said.

NAIA remains a 'worst airport'

The premier gateway of the Philippines was listed as one of the world's worst airports ranked by the online website, The Guide to Sleeping in Airports from 2011 to 2013. The airport significantly improved its ranking in 2014 finishing in fourth place, while in 2015, it was knocked off the list entirely. However, it is still remains the eighth worst airport in Asia.

Image Source: Wikimedia
"Passengers remain annoyed by the poor customer service, the long queues, the sub-par food selection, the lack of restrooms and the crowded seating areas. There is definitely a long way to go but we're thrilled to see improvements come along bit by bit."  stated the Sleeping in Airports website.

Since taking office, the Duterte administration has wasted no time in making changes at the country's top airport, acting on the feedback of both passengers and airlines. The decision to transfer control of airport maintenance to the private sector represents a shift from the previous administration, which preferred government control and oversight of the nation's airports rather than cooperating with private companies. In 2014, San Miguel Corporation presented a P10 billion proposal to construct a brand new airport for Manila. However, the Aquino administration refused to acknowledge unsolicited bids. Meanwhile, following the success at Mactan-Cebu International Airport, there is a stronger desire to shift management of the nation's airports to the private sector.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Air New Zealand Postpones Manila Service

Air New Zealand has announced that it will be postponing the launch of its non-stop service between Auckland and Manila. In a statement released to travel agents, Air New Zealand cited administrative reasons as the cause for the delay.

air new zealand manila
Image Source: Wikimedia
"Administrative delays in being able to make the new route available for sale, coupled with the traditionally longer booking window for this market, have led to the deferral decision," said Air New Zealand. "The service was to launch in December 2016, but has now been deferred until further notice."

Earlier this year, Air New Zealand made an announcement that it was growing its network in the Pacific Rim by launching the only non-stop flight between New Zealand and the Philippines.  The service was to begin in December with three weekly flights operated by a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. The carrier was hoping to begin ticket sales by the end of the first half of this year. 

Last April, Air New Zealand's Chief Executive Officer Christopher Luxon indicated that the carrier had great confidence in the new route. "The Filipino population in New Zealand has more than tripled since 2001 and is now the third largest Asian ethnic group with around 40,000 Filipinos resident in New Zealand," said Luxon. "The number of visitors from the Philippines is also continuing to grow rapidly, up more than 20 percent in the past year alone so we're anticipating that demand for this service will be steady in both directions."

When Air New Zealand begins flying to Manila, it will be the fastest flight between the two nations at approximately 10.5 hours. "As the only non-stop service between New Zealand and the Philippines, our flight will be quicker and more convenient for travellers than the fastest current option, which flies indirect, potentially saving up to two and a half hours each way," added Luxon.

Although no specific details were given regarding the administrative delays, it is highly likely that the cause can be attributed to the limited supply of slots available at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which would make it challenging for Air New Zealand to obtain their preferred schedule.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand-Philippines market continues to be served by one-stop products including the Philippine Airlines service from Manila to Auckland via Cairns. The national flag carrier launched the service last December with Airbus narrow-body aircraft.

References: Australian Aviation