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New airport infrastructure key to PAL’s ‘five-star’ goal

Workers are seen on scaffolding at a construction site for an expressway in Manila on March 8, 2017. Desperately needed airports and trains are part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's envisioned "golden age of infrastructure", but graft, red tape and other perennial problems threaten the 170-billion USD plan. AFP PHOTO

Improvements in the country’s aviation infrastructure — in particular, having a new airport that can facilitate more aircraft movements — are crucial for the Philippine Airlines to be able to achieve its goal of joining the ranks of the world’s five-star carriers by 2020.

Thus said PAL president Jaime Bautista as he laid out the next steps the Lucio Tan-owned flag carrier will take over the next two years to capitalize on the gains of its recent upgrade to four-star status by international airline accreditation body Skytrax.

“Airport improvements are very important to us, especially for our goal to get the five-star status,” he said in a press briefing in Makati on Tuesday. “We really need to give the passengers the experience they want. If there’s [airport] congestion, there will be delays and sometimes cancellations. And that will really affect our aspiration to be a five star carrier.”

The bulk of PAL’s operations are based in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) which original facilities were built as far back as 70 years ago. It has one runway that can accommodate wide-bodied aircraft for long-haul international flights, and an intersecting shorter runway used for domestic and regional flights. Naia can only handle 40 take-offs or landings per hour.

Most aviation hubs overseas, however, have at least two parallel runways that can accommodate simultaneous take-offs and landings.

“For us to be able to do that, we will have to adjust our plans,” Bautista said, explaining that current constraints at Naia mean that PAL must moderate its goal of growing its fleet size and operations by up to 15 percent annually.

“But by working with [airport authorities], and PAL implementing what we think are important [improvements] for the passenger experience, we can still achieve five-star status by 2020,” he also said.

On Friday, PAL said that it will undertake major initiatives this 2018 to sustain the momentum of its recently gained four-star status, including augmenting its fleet with newer aircraft, including the first of the long-haul using Airbus A350-900s to be delivered in June.

Additional A350s will arrive in August, September, and December.

Bautista said PAL will use these new aircraft — six of which were ordered in 2015 for a total of $2 billion — for a non-stop service between Manila and New York that will be made possible by using a shorter route over the North Pole. Current PAL flights between Manila and New York must make re-fuelling stops in Vancouver, Canada.

PAL plans to use the A350s for additional services to Seattle, Chicago, and Western Europe in the future, Bautista said.

PAL will also take delivery of six Airbus A321neo aircraft this 2018 which will be used for a Manila-Brisbane route starting May. It will also be used for new flights between Manila and Sapporo, New Delhi and Mumbai.                                 /kga

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