Low-cost carrier AirPhil Express has bared plans to start long-haul operations to the Middle East, going head-to-head with industry leader Cebu Pacific.
Documents from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) showed Air Philippines Corp., operator of AirPhil Express, had asked for flight entitlements for the Manila-Kuwait route.
There are an estimated three million Filipinos living in the Middle East.
AirPhil Express plans to mount three flights a week using wide-body Airbus A330 planes. AirPhil Express currently operates only narrow-body Airbus A320 jets.
The company has yet to say whether it will acquire planes capable of long-haul flights.
AirPhil Express is seeking entitlements in accordance with the confidential memorandum of agreement signed between the governments of the Philippines and Kuwait in February 2009.
Current international points of AirPhil Express include Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
AirPhil Express is the sister company of Philippine Airlines (PAL), which also plans to relaunch flights to the Middle East as the firm buys more planes. Other routes in PAL’s network include points in Brazil, Russia, Italy and France.
Kuwait will be the airline’s only long-haul flight destination. The company’s application follows the recent announcement by Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific to start flights to Dubai starting October this year.
Cebu Pacific said it was also working to secure approvals to start flights to Saudi Arabia, among other points in the Middle East, where millions of Filipinos live and work.
There is currently no Filipino airline with flights to the Middle East.
Last week, CAB documents also showed AirPhil Express was planning direct flights from Zamboanga to Sandakan, a popular eco-tourism destination and one of the largest cities in Sabah.
The Zamboanga-Sandakan flights will be the only international service out of the Zamboanga International Airport, Mindanao’s third-busiest airport after Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
Latest government data showed that the company’s international passenger business slumped slightly to 104,820 passengers in the first three quarters of 2012 from 107,235 in the same period the year before.
This came despite the growth in total international air traffic to the country to 12.56 million in the nine-month period, up from 11.69 million the previous year.
PAL remained the market leader with 3.07 million international passengers in January to September 2012, up from 2.99 million 12 months prior.
Cebu Pacific, for its part, ended September of 2012 with 2.03 million passengers, up from 1.82 million in January to September of 2011.