By: AirTravellerPH Staff
Air Philippines, operating under the brand of PAL Express, is Philippine Airlines's "low-cost" subsidiary, but we really do not see them as a low-cost carrier to the likes of Cebu Pacific and Philippines AirAsia. They are incharge of Philippine Airlines's domestic network operating from hubs in Manila, Clark, and Cebu. They were formerly known as AirPhil Express, and Air Philippines.
The airline presently operates 32 aircraft consisting of 8 Airbus A320, 6 Airbus A321, and 14 Bombardier Q400NG. The average age of their fleet is 7.7 years with their A320 aircraft now at an average of 9.5 years. This means that some of their aircraft are 10 years old. Presently, they do not need immediate replacement but in the future, they would.
At the same time, Philippine domestic travel is seen to increase as both Cebu Pacific and Philippine AirAsia are seen ramping up their capacity and increasing its route network. AirAsia has a plan of expanding their fleet to 50 from 25. Cebu Pacific on the other hand is replacing their old A320s with A321s while having 10 A320NEOs by 2025. They are also expanding their network by utilizing their other hubs like Clark and Cebu.
PAL Express may be in danger of losing its domestic market share which may risk them falling to third spot as both budget carriers are ramping up their game, hence, the need for PAL Express to aggressively increase capacity and route network.
PAL Express now uses 6 A321CEOs which were formerly used by Philippine Airlines. As PAL takes in more A321NEOs, PAL Express may benefit from this by being the receiving end of classic PAL A321CEOs which total to 24 in number. So yes, PAL Express may even take in all 24 A321s should they wish once PAL receives all their A321NEOs.
Not all airports in the Philippines though can take A321s and routes from some PAL Express hubs like Cebu and Clark may find the A321 too big in terms of capacity, hence, the need for A320s and Q400NGs. Presently, PAL Express uses Bombardier Q400s for interisland routes in the Philippines but then again due to the increasing number of passengers, improved provincial airports that can take bigger aircraft, and limited slots, the Q400s may be too small in terms of capacity in the future.
The A320NEO may be the best solution for PAL Express in the future as this will be the perfect replacement for their present but ageing A320 fleet.
Aside from being more fuel efficient than the incumbent A320-214 in the PAL Express fleet, the A320-271N will give the airline the advantage of higher capacity and lower fuel burn. It can also take 195 passengers if it would be configured in a single class layout with a seat pitch of 27 degrees but then again, those are extreme figures already. The present PAL Express A320s have 2 different type of configurations, 180 seaters which consists of 12 premium economy and 168 economy. The other are 156 seaters which are basically the old Philippine Airlines A320. PAL Express may configure the A320NEOs with 185 seats to 190 with a mix of premium economy and economy class seats.
Just like how Cebu Pacific is utilizing their A320NEOs where they are mostly assigned to hubs outside of Metro Manila, PAL Express may do the same, while some still stay in Manila.
The A320NEO would make a perfect aircraft for PAL Express to operate from their hubs in Clark and Cebu to major domestic destinations like Davao, General Santos, Puerto Princessa, Caticlan, and Iloilo while increasing capacity as compared to the Q400NGs. Many airports in the Philippines are being upgraded to accomodate Airbus aircraft with longer runways and air bridges.
The A320NEO will as well allow PAL Express to remain competitive at the same time versus Cebu Pacific which is the leading budget airline in the Philippines. Cebu has a pending order of 10 A320NEOs and 2 have been delivered already. Philippines AirAsia is also not far from acquiring the same aircraft as it ramps up its fleet from 25 to 50.
All in all, yes we do really think that PAL Express should start considering the Airbus A320NEO regardless if they will be going for a dual-branding model with PAL, or remain as a single brand. We see it to have a lot of benefits for PAL Express especially when it comes to expanding its hubs in Cebu and Clark by increasing capacity and adding more routes. It will be the perfect replacement to their old A320 aircraft and will fully complement the fleet of A321CEO.