Philippine Airlines Confident to Compete in Middle East and Europe

In the midst of the on-going global expansion of Philippine Airlines into Europe and the Middle East, many industry observers have been highly sceptical of the airline's plans often referring to them as "ambitious." But in spite of such doubt and criticism, executives at Philippine Airlines remain confident that they are making the right moves to position PAL in the words of Ramon Ang as a "truly global Filipino airline."

philippine airlines middle east abu dhabi dubai
Photo Credit: Source Unknown/PPSG
Following the return of Philippine Airlines to the Middle East after 15 years of absence with its inaugural flight between Manila and Abu Dhabi on October 1, many aviation experts have suggested that the airline will have a challenging time competing with the established carriers from the Gulf region. But a PAL executive was quick to dismiss the claims citing that Philippine Airlines is also a well established airline. 

"As you all know, PAL was established in 1941, so we ourselves are already an established airline and we're here to offer a product to customers at a value proposition, to be able to give them a product they deserve and at a price they are willing to bear," said Ismael Gozon, Senior Vice President for Airline Operations. "Obviously, there is always competition and that is always part of this business. But we embrace competition and that's something that we have to deal with as we move forward in this market."

Gozon went on to say that Philippine Airlines doesn't just cater to Filipinos but to international passengers that transit through Manila citing the appeal of Abu Dhabi as a destination for all. "It's not surprising we staged our comeback here in Abu Dhabi. Your dynamic city is one of the most influential in the region, a center of commerce, petroleum industry, culture and arts, education in the Arab world," said Gozon. "It is a major destination that any airline would be proud to serve."

He added that this is not the first time that Philippine Airlines had flown to Abu Dhabi recalling some twenty years ago when Philippine Airlines used Abu Dhabi as an important travel point in PAL's service between Manila and Europe as well as Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, when asked by reporters what competitive advantage Philippine Airlines had over its competitors from the Middle East, Gozon replied that the people of PAL are the advantage. "We are a truly Filipino carrier with hundreds of Filipino staff and crew that offer a truly Filipino product for every passenger," said Gozon. "Filipinos are in the service industry and we at PAL try to showcase that kind of service regardless of where we are. That's our showcase and advantage." Gozon's comments may not be enough to silence or convince sceptics and aviation critics. 

There are presently 475,000 Filipinos residing in Abu Dhabi with approximately sixty percent working as professionals. Philippine Airlines will continue its global expansion next month as PAL Express introduces its first long-haul route to Dubai. While it is clear that the service is intended to compete directly with Cebu Pacific, it remains unclear how the PAL Express long-haul experience will differ from its mainline counterpart. 

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines is also preparing for its long anticipated return to Europe with direct flights to London beginning on November 4. PAL's expansion into Europe has come under heavy criticism from aviation experts citing that skies between Europe and Asia are even more crowded than those to the Middle East. But Philippine Airlines is banking on the fact that it will be the only carrier with a non-stop service from London to Manila and that it managed to attain highly-prized slots at London's Heathrow airport, one of the major gateways to Europe. Philippine Airlines will be the only carrier with a direct flight between Europe and the Philippines.

Many were expecting Philippine Airlines to return to the less desirable Gatwick Airport but PAL executives sacrificed important connecting and transit traffic in exchange for slots at the more popular London gateway. Heathrow executives believe that Philippine Airlines made the right choice citing that many airlines have been unable to make long-haul flights from Gatwick work. "Airlines that have been unable to access slots at Heathrow have tried and failed to make long-haul flights from Gatwick work," said Colin Matthews, Chief Executive at Heathrow Airport. "There is no need for a crystal ball to test Gatwick's claims that it can provide long-haul flights when we have the hard evidence of 10 years of failure." He added that in the last five years alone, twenty long-haul airlines have withdrawn from Gatwick. Most recently, Garuda Indonesia shelved a plan to launch Gatwick-Jarkarta flights while Air China decided to suspend its Gatwick-Beijing flights. 

Heathrow Airport also reiterated the need for long-haul flights to operate from hub airports. "Gatwick maintains that long-haul flights do not need to operate from a hub airport. Yet, in the 10 years that Heathrow has been full, Gatwick has failed to deliver flight to long-haul business destinations." The statement went on to say that the lack of connecting passengers at Gatwick results in the failure to fill flights as compared to major European hubs like Frankfurt and Amsterdam. 

If Philippine Airlines is successful in maintaining its direct service to London, the results would be positive for trade and commerce between the two countries. According to Heathrow Airport, businesses in the United Kingdom trade twenty times more with emerging markets that operate daily flights than those with less frequent or no direct service. Philippine Airlines will be beginning its service to London on November 4 with five weekly flights.


  1. Heathrow is a prized destination. Probably one of the most difficult airports to get slots for landings and take offs. PAL should do all it can to hold on to these slots it was able to acquire after such difficulties. Any other airline would trade an aircraft just to get hold of these slots.

    Yes, Heathrow is much more appealing for us Londoners too, Gatwick being too far for comfort. Also, Heathrow is a brand in itself, nice feel to it.. Gatwick - like you've taken a flight from some out in the woods airport... probably why business class passengers would not even give it a thought.

    Allan Marmita.

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