With a pending order of 100 Airbus A330-900NEOs, it is obvious that AirAsia is indeed on expansion mode, and we are not discounting the fact that its subsidiary Philippines Air Asia is on the receiving end of this expansion. Today (August 14, 2019), we got unconfirmed news that AirAsia's long haul low cost subsidiary is also coming to the Philippines, so we ask, how possible is this?
Well if we look at the Philippines's current commercial aviation situation, it is very possible that AirAsia will be introducing wide-body services from Manila to its current destinations. In about 6 years time, we foresee a huge growth in Philippine air travel as the New Manila International is set to be operational by then.
Presently, one of the constraints as to why local airlines are limited with their expansion is due to the current Ninoy Aquino International Airport set-up. NAIA is basically so congested that there is no more place to park more airplanes, particularly widebodies. With a perpendicular runway system too which actually dates back to the 1960s, take-offs and landings in NAIA are very limited. With the NMIA in Bulakan, Bulacan at place approximately 6 years from now, airlines will definitely take advantage of this. One of them is Philippines AirAsia.
Another factor that can lead to AirAsia X coming to the Philippines is airport congestion not only in Manila but in other key destinations in Asia.
Just last March, Cebu Pacific placed in an order of up to 16 Airbus A330-900NEO with 460 seats in a mono-class configuration. Despite the aircraft's capability to fly transpacific and compete with Philippine Airlines in the Manila to California routes, Cebu Pacific had a different thing in mind, and that is to address the problems with airport congestion in its routes. With the upcoming new widebodies, this will allow Cebu Pacific to add more capacity with a single aircraft than having more frequencies using narrowbody aircraft like the Airbus A320. Presently, Cebu Pacific has 8 Airbus A330-300s which are mostly used for regional flights. The budget carrier's only long haul flights are Manila to Sydney, Melbourne, and Dubai.
With 100 Airbus A330-900NEOs on order, it is not far that AirAsia will send some of those aircraft to the Philippines for Philippines AirAsia, or maybe to also establish Philippines AirAsia X.
Unlike Cebu Pacific though, AirAsia's widebody aircraft operates under a different brand which is AirAsia X. Hence, we see two possibilities here, either Philippines AirAsia will be operating those A330NEOs as Philippines Air Asia or Philippines Air Asia X will be established as the operator of those widebodies.
In order to compete with Cebu Pacific, Philippines AirAsia will need to expand its network and capacity but with the present congestion, a more sound move would be for PAA to also operate widebody aircraft but there is another factor, the configuration of AirAsia's A330NEOs.
Unlike Cebu Pacific which operates all-economy class A330s, AirAsia's present A330s have a 2-class configuration, a business class and economy class. Though not as comfortable and entertaining as Philippine Airlines's tri-class A330s, they are still lie-flat seats configured for long haul flights.
AirAsia X's A330NEO are configured with 377 seats as compared to Cebu Pacific's A330NEO with 460. AirAsia X's product offering on its A330s are similar to Philippine Airlines's 368-seater A330.
Cebu Pacific regardless of the aircraft only has one type of product offering, and that is a full economy class budget carrier. AirAsia has two. AirAsia operates an all-narrowbody fleet with an all-economy class seat configuration. AirAsia X on the other hand operates widebody aircraft with a 2-class configuration.
If AirAsia decide's to bring in their A330NEOs to the Philippines, we will then see the birth of Philippines AirAsia X, same as Indonesia AirAsia X and Thai AirAsia X. What we also foresee here is that Philippines AirAsia X will not be concentrating on long haul flights, instead, they will compliment the narrowbody fleet of the airline especially in airport where congestion is an issue.
AirAsia X was originally planned to be a long-haul low cost subsidiary of AirAsia but due to stiff competition from legacy carriers on long haul routes where they dominate plus the costs of operating long haul flights, AirAsia X was forced to reduce its long haul routes and concentrate on regional destinations where they can increase capacity without having to increase frequency. In other words, the airline can operate 1 widebody on one slot which is basically equivalent to 2 narrowbodies taking two slots. Remember, slots even in major airports in Asia are now limited.
So will AirAsia X really be coming to Manila? We do not want to confirm nor deny things but for as long as no official announcement has been made, then let us wait and see what the future holds for Philippines AirAsia. As far though as we can predict, yes the possibility of Philippines AirAsia X is big.
Then again, that's just us. Nothing yet from AirAsia.
Don't expect it to happen soon though. Where will AirAsia park those widebodies given the ultra-limited slots in NAIA?
So what will Philippine Airlines and PAL Express do?
Come to think of it, Philippine Airlines has 7 A330s with 368 seats in its disposal, similar to AirAsia X's A330 configurations. No IFEs but with full-flat business class seats. They also have Airbus A321-200CEOs with no IFEs but with business class seats where PAL Express now makes use of 6 of them. Will they be transfered to PAL Express with a totally new branding to face the possibility of AirAsia X and Cebu Pacific? Only time will tell.
As for now, exciting times are ahead for Philippine commercial aviation as our airlines prepare for a totally new airport with larger capacity, eliminating all the constraints for expansion.