The Race To Fill Cebu Hub

26 January 2017

Prime slot allocation at Mactan Cebu International Airport is fast disappearing after Low Cost Carrier Cebu Pacific and PAL Express flooded the airport with new slot request for new flights from the country's second busiest gateway.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has noted that the two carriers are scrambling for slots to fly domestic points by fielding smaller planes in exchange for more frequency out of Cebu airport. Slots intended for international operations are not affected at this time.

Cebu Pacific (CEB) has ordered a fleet of 16 new ATR 72-600s, with 78 seats with options for 10 additional aircraft which will be operated by Cebgo, its wholly owned subsidiary while Philippine Airlines (PAL) has ordered a fleet of 5  new Bombardier DH8-400 aircraft with 86 seats and options for 7 additional aircraft which will be operated by PAL Express. It also operates four Q300 planes.

CAB said that a substantial majority of this turboprop orders will be stationed in Cebu for rotations to Visayas and Mindanao while some are heading for destinations in Luzon other than Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. 

The airline regulator cited as an example Cebu Pacific which flies A320 aircraft twice daily to Cagayan de Oro and now intends to operate four times daily on a smaller ATR aircraft. PAL also intends to double frequency to major Visayas and Mindanao hubs with smaller Q400NG planes which is now serviced by existing A320 aircraft.

Cebu Pacific is quick to respond saying the equipment downgrade was due to the exit of its A319 planes out of its fleet and has nothing to do about slot advantages in Mactan. PAL Express on the other hand argued that it is funneling passengers to Mactan so that it can connect passengers to Manila which they are unable to do at  other major airports due to slot concerns at NAIA.

CAB however maintains the position that should CEB and PAL eventually upgrades the aircraft, it will already have rights of first refusal on the unused slots and would most likely keep them away from the competition unless surrendered by the airline which is not going to happen considering its economic value in a congested airport, perhaps taking a cue on their experiences in Manila.

Small airline operators has already opposed such moves by two major airlines as anti-competitive behavior and vows to challenge them holding majority of MCIA slots that would be detrimental to their growth.

Airlines are known to fly non-revenue flights just to keep the slots allotted to them at the fully-booked airport like NAIA.

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