Cebu biz leaders: Aviation issues may affect tourist arrivals in PH

File photo
File photo

TOURISM stakeholders in Cebu want a speedy resolution to the current controversy faced by airline companies, saying that flight cancellations may affect tourist arrivals.

“From a tourism perspective, fewer flights will mean fewer tourist arrivals,” Charles Kenneth Co, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in an interview on Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

The Senate on Wednesday began its public inquiry into the numerous complaints against budget carrier Cebu Pacific over alleged overbooking, offloading and glitches in booking flights.

“Flight cancellations are very inconvenient to the airline passengers who have made plans already. I also noticed the airfares of last-minute flights have skyrocketed. I hope the aviation industry can work together with the tourism sector to improve services and availability of flights for everyone’s benefit,” said Co.

Difficulties

In a statement, Cebu Pacific said it acknowledged the difficulties and frustrations that its passengers have been experiencing lately.

The Gokongwei-led airline blamed fleet availability issues affecting the global aviation industry along with specific environmental factors as among the challenges faced by the airline today.

“We empathize with our passengers, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience that we have caused,” the airline said.

PAL issue

Meanwhile, PAL on Saturday, June 17 apologized to its passengers affected by several flight cancellations last week.

“Several aircraft had to undergo maintenance due to ongoing supply chain delays and unexpected technical issues that developed. We are taking these precautions in the interest of safety, which is always our highest priority,” PAL said on its website.

“This is a sad happening coming at the time of post Covid-19 pandemic when the world is now opening, and people are raring to travel. We hope that this will be resolved as soon as possible. It is not only tourism that is affected but business travels as well,” said Kelie Ko, president of the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

On Wednesday, June 21, PAL announced cancellations of at least eight flights, namely PR382 Canada, PR318 Hong Kong, PR408 Osaka, PR501 Singapore, PR740 Bangkok, PR110 Guam, PR432 Narita, and PR426 Fukuoka due to the grounding of several aircraft.

Affected passengers were advised to proceed to the PAL ticketing office for the rescheduling of their flights.

Sharing codes

While he understood the current predicament of airline companies, Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu president Alfred Reyes, in a separate interview, suggested that airlines may explore the adoption of code-sharing among their airline counterparts so the country could continue welcoming foreign tourists.

Code-sharing is a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline and sells tickets for that flight.

Reyes said a code-share agreement is beneficial to augment flights and even make up for flights that have been canceled.

“We will need to ask other airlines to fly to the Philippines,” he said. He explained that given the industry issues faced by airlines, they will be forced to temporarily discontinue some flights to destinations, particularly those that have low demand.

“This is one of the challenges coming from the pause we had years back,” Reyes said.

Engine, supply issues

At the Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Nancy Binay on Wednesday, Cebu Pacific (CEB) president and chief executive officer Alexander Lao explained that engine and supply chain issues in the global aviation industry have changed the dynamics of airline operations.

The CEB official said the global aviation industry has been impacted by Pratt and Whitney (PW) engine issues, which power its Airbus A321/A320 NEO aircraft.

“The PW engines are experiencing premature removal from service and each engine restoration requires 220 days instead of the industry norm of 90 days,” Lao said. He likened the premature servicing to a car’s preventive maintenance, where the vehicle is brought in for inspection at 3,000 kilometers instead of the expected 5,000 kilometers.

Lao said more than 120 aircraft worldwide are currently grounded due to this issue. CEB had already encountered 12 unscheduled engine removals this year, and it had to ground three Airbus A321/A320 NEOs indefinitely since the middle of March.

Apart from the PW engine issues, Lao said the airline had also encountered delays from Airbus, its aircraft manufacturer due to global supply chain issues. As a result, the airline experienced delays ranging from two to five months for scheduled deliveries in 2023. Global supply chain issues also led to extended recovery periods for aircraft on the ground before they are deemed airworthy and compliant with safety standards.

“These delivery delays necessitate changes to our flight schedules, including flight cancellations and equipment changes from larger to smaller aircraft which may cause some passengers to be disrupted and cause the perception of overbooking. Rather than canceling the flight, the use of smaller aircraft allows us to still bring as many customers as possible to their destination and lessen the number of disrupted passengers,” Lao said.

Other challenges

The CEB official also brought up infrastructure challenges resulting in longer restoration of their aircraft. Lao said some of its aircraft experienced incidents like ground damage from runway debris; damage caused by unexpected severe weather events; bird-strikes; aircraft damaged by a burst tire upon landing; and damage from a towing incident by its contracted maintenance provider.

Lao also raised the prevalent and longer duration of red lightning alerts this year. About 78 red lightning alerts have been raised from April to June, affecting 535 flights with alerts taking up to three hours of stoppage of operations.

“These sudden and unprecedented operational challenges and fleet availability issues led to the sudden and sharp grounding of up to 17 percent of our fleet since April,” he said.

Despite these issues, Lao said they are committed to resolving these challenges.

“We have implemented measures such as activating a disruption management team, increasing live chat agents, and improving policies and processes for disruption handling and communication,” said Lao.

Moreover, given the sudden unprecedented number of grounded aircraft, CEB said it has reduced its flight schedule to account for the long-term unserviceable aircraft and enable more standby aircraft on the day. The airline has also increased its standby aircraft from three to four, and plans to further increase this to six by the end of the year. These additional aircraft will be used should there be uncontrollable events occurring on the day of the flight.

CEB is also leasing more aircraft to enhance its operations.

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