|Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG|
Last April, the European Union revealed that Cebu Pacific had been lifted from the safety ban imposed on Philippine carriers from operating flights to Europe. The announcement came just one day after the US Federal Aviation Administration restored the Philippines back to Category 1 status.
The ban on flights to Europe was imposed in March 2010, preventing any Philippine carriers including Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines from flying to any of the 27 European member states. With the ban lifted last year, Cebu Pacific has been free to mount flights to Europe at any time.
However, Cebu Pacific President Lance Gokongwei stated earlier that there would be no flights to Europe in the near future, while the budget carrier carefully evaluated its acquisition of new long-haul aircraft and the viability of various European destinations.
Gokongwei had previously stated that the budget carrier would initially concentrate its efforts on large overseas Filipino markets, particularly in the Middle East, Australia, and the United States. Last year, Cebu Pacific expanded its long-haul network to Riyadh, Dammam, Kuwait, and Sydney.
Cebu Pacific is still in need of additional aircraft that will have the range and capability of serving long-haul destinations in Europe and the United States as its existing A330-300 fleet has limited range. However, that does not prevent the carrier from flying to destinations such as Italy via intermediate points such as Dubai or Tel Aviv.
According to Alex Reyes, General Manager of Cebu Pacific's Long-Haul Division, the carrier would like seven of the fourteen entitlements that are currently held, but are not being used by Philippine Airlines. "The Philippines has 14 weekly flight entitlements to Italy, which have all been allocated to Philippine Airlines," said Reyes. "Cebu Pacific is requesting the reallocation of 7 unutilized flight entitlements to Italy."
Under the leadership of Ramon Ang and San Miguel Corporation, Philippine Airlines revealed that it planned to operate seven weekly flights each to Rome Fiumicino Airport and Milan Malpensa Airport. But current Philippine Airlines President Jaime Bautista stated late last year that all European expansion was on hold indefinitely.
Philippine Airlines has struggled to generate a profit on its sole European flight to London's Heathrow Airport. Several aviation analysts have indicated that it would be more prudent for Philippine carriers to concentrate on the US market, where there is a significantly larger population of overseas Filipinos.
Italy is currently home to 170,000 Filipinos, compared to nearly 3.5 million Filipinos in the United States. But according to Carmelo Arcilla, Executive Director of the Civil Aeronautics Board, these airports can be used to serve traffic coming from other parts of Europe. "Rome and Milan can also be a jump off point for traffic between Souther Europe and the Philippines," said Arcilla.
A jump off point is exactly what one European carrier plans when it begins flying non-stop between Istanbul and Manila. Turkish Airlines, rated one of the world's best carriers, plans to launch three weekly flights between Turkey and the Philippines in March, as it attempts to capture a share of the large number of overseas Filipinos travelling to and from Europe.
Istanbul will be used as a connection point to a number of destinations throughout Western Europe adding yet another competitor in what is becoming a highly competitive market between KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Philippine Airlines, and the Gulf carriers.
The Civil Aeronautics Board has scheduled a hearing for Cebu Pacific's Application to Italy on January 14.