Airlines cut flights, work on fleet expansion to minimize cancellations

Airlines cut flights, work on fleet expansion to minimize cancellations
Facade of Ninoy Aquino International Terminal 3.
  • Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia Philippines are cutting flights and working on fleet expansion to minimize flight cancellations and other disruptions resulting from supply chain issues
  • Appearing in a Senate Committee on Tourism hearing on Senate Resolution No. 575 on June 21, representatives from the three local carriers apologized to passengers for the disruptions
  • Supply chain issues have led Cebu Pacific to make 12 unscheduled engine removals this year and indefinitely ground three Airbus A321/A320 NEOs since mid- March
  • PAL has three aircraft on extended maintenance, five on ground awaiting maintenance, and five parked indefinitely

Local airlines are cutting flights and working on fleet expansion to minimize flight cancellations and other disruptions resulting from supply chain issues.

Representatives from Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and AirAsia Philippines apologized for the disruptions during a Senate Committee on Tourism hearing on Senate Resolution No. 575 on June 21.

“We express our sincerest apologies to our passengers for the disruptions and assure you that we are committed to resolving these challenges,” Cebu Pacific president and chief commercial officer Alexander Lao said.

Filed by Senator Nancy Binay, SR 575 directs the Committee on Tourism to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation into airline passengers’ complaints against Cebu Pacific for overbooking, offloading and booking glitches. The inquiry would require the Department of Tourism and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to address these concerns and consider ways to compensate affected customers.

While Cebu Pacific was the only airline named in the resolution, other carriers were invited to the hearing as they, too, have been subject of complaints by passengers.

Lao said the global aviation industry has been hit by issues on Pratt & Whitney engines, which power Airbus A321/A320 NEO aircraft.

The engines require premature removal from service with each engine restoration taking 220 days instead of the 90-day industry norm, Lao explained. As a result, more than 120 aircraft worldwide are now grounded.

Cebu Pacific has had 12 unscheduled engine removals this year; three Airbus A321/A320 NEOs have also been indefinitely grounded since mid-March.

Apart from Pratt & Whitney engine issues, Lao said Cebu Pacific encountered Airbus aircraft delivery delays, with global supply chain issues making the situation worse.

He said the delivery delays require flight schedule revamps and cancellations as well as equipment changes from larger to smaller aircraft. The latter has disrupted some flight schedules causing perceptions of overbooking.

Lao said instead of cancelling flights, Cebu Pacific usually proceeds with voyages but using smaller planes.

Supply chain issues have also become increasingly prominent, he added, leading to extended recovery periods for aircraft on ground. This means aircraft are grounded until they are deemed airworthy and compliant with safety standards.

Cebu Pacific has experienced a number incidents in a short span of time, including damage on the ground from runway debris; damage from unexpected severe weather events; bird strikes; aircraft damage from tires bursting at touchdown; and damage during towing by the contracted maintenance provider.

Lao said these operational challenges and fleet availability issues have led to the grounding of up to 17% of Cebu Pacific’s fleet since April.

Moreover, red lightning alerts that force suspension of all flight and ground operations at airports have become more prevalent this year than in previous years.

PAL vice president for legal affairs Clara de Castro said during the same hearing that the global supply shortage of parts and engines resulted in more PAL aircraft going into preventive, mostly unscheduled maintenance.

“We’re not offering any excuses. We are fully aware of the inconvenience to our passengers kaya po humihingi kami ng sinserong paumanhin sa publiko, sa aming mga pasahero (so we are offering our sincere apalogy to the public and to our passengers),” De Castro said.

The PAL executive said three aircraft are on extended maintenance, five are on the ground awaiting maintenance, and five are parked indefinitely.

Lao said Cebu Pacific is “taking all possible steps to address the issues that are global in impact”, such as reducing flight schedules until the third quarter and enhancing customer care and recovery policy.

The airline is also increasing its standby aircraft from three to four this June and until the end of the year, plus leasing additional planes to enhance further its operational resilience.

To improve operations and assist affected customers, Lao said Cebu Pacific has activated a disruption management team, increased live-chat agents, and enhanced policies and processes for disruption handling and communication.

“We acknowledge that these actions may still be insufficient for affected passengers, and we are actively managing the situation and assessing how we can provide better care during this recovery period,” Lao said.

For PAL, De Castro said the airline is continuing efforts to restore operations to normalcy and has reduced the number of flights since January 2023. She said PAL is notifying passengers of flight cancellations in advance of at least seven days or more and to keep flight cancellations to a minimum.

PAL is likewise actively seeking more sources of critical parts.

An additional A321 CEO aircraft is arriving in July while arrangements are being finalized for the lease of two more planes, De Castro said. PAL expects another grounded aircraft will be fixed soon to rejoin the fleet by first week of August.

Meanwhile, Desiree Bandal, AirAsia Philippines head of government affairs and policy, said AAP’s flight schedule matches with the number of aircraft until the end of the year.

AirAsia is coordinating its operations with the authorities and is working on expanding its fleet from 14 aircraft to 20 by the yearend, Bandal said.

CAB executive director Carmelo Arcilla and Manila International Airport Authority officer-in-charge Bryan Co both said they had been coordinating with airlines to address the issues.

Arcilla, however, said the supply chain issue “doesn’t put the airlines off the hook necessarily” and is not an “automatic excuse”. He said an airline is under obligation under the law to exhaust all means to minimize, if not prevent, inconvenience to the riding public.

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