Perth class: Australia sets up PAL’s rebirth after tough chapter
MANILA, Philippines — There is no time difference between Manila and Perth, which can be quite a jolt for a traveler wanting to escape the daunting loop of traffic and heat in the Philippine capital. But as Western Australia’s largest city transitions to autumn, Perth welcomes with Baguio-like weather and a number of buses plying wide, almost empty streets and offering free transport.
Western Australia, currently home to around 46,000 Filipinos, fittingly builds up the comeback of Philippine Airlines (PAL) from a hard-fought battle during the pandemic.
On the morning of March 27, PAL’s long-range Airbus A321neo touched down for the first time at Perth Airport. It was the newest long-haul flight that the flag carrier introduced since exiting Chapter 11 corporate rehabilitation.
“PAL’s recovery agenda is focused on building up global links with economic growth potential — and that’s the business case for Perth. We are not just trying to serve ongoing market demand … We intend to stimulate new travel, essentially developing a market for business and holiday tourism in both directions,” Carlos Luis Fernandez, PAL senior vice president and general counsel, tells the Inquirer.
The pandemic was not easy on any carrier for that matter, but PAL also had to contend with a restructuring that saw it file for bankruptcy protection before a United States court in September 2021. It also lost some of its long-haul routes, mainly London and Auckland, which it had pursued prior to COVID-19 outbreak to supposedly improve yields and to enhance its status on the international stage.
PAL president and chief operating officer Stanley Ng, a veteran commercial pilot, himself flew the aircraft that left Manila a little past midnight on March 27. Ng himself suggested that he would again don his pilot uniform after being away from the cockpit since taking the helm of PAL in January last year.
But more than a marketing ploy, it was a reminder that he now commands a company that had just gone through another bitter chapter in its 82 years of existence.
“It is a great privilege to lead the maiden flight to Perth as pilot in command. This milestone journey celebrates the continuing recovery of our airline from the challenges of the pandemic. The flight symbolizes PAL’s determination to grow its network and conquer new markets,” Ng says.
Benefits of new route
The nonstop Manila-Perth (and back) service, clocking in at a little over seven hours one-way, operates thrice weekly every Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
The flight out of Manila leaves at 12:05 a.m., while the Perth service leaves at 8:30 a.m.
Perth was not a random addition to PAL’s Australian footprint. The service’s masterminds, at work even before the pandemic and included Ng himself, fit the schedule to take advantage of passenger traffic vis-à-vis the airline’s flight network.
According to the Lucio Tan-led airline, the flight to Manila allows for easy connections to Cebu, Davao and other business and resort destinations here. Travelers may also fly onward via nonstop PAL flights to the West Coast in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Fernandez says “PAL is following a growth strategy” that is evident in its Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane routes. “The remarkable growth in Australian tourist travel to the Philippines could reasonably be attributed to PAL’s nonstop flights to these three Australian cities (no other airline offers the same extent of Philippine-Australia connections). Australia is now the third largest source of tourists to the Philippines,” he adds.
The new route is also a welcome development to the Filipino community there. Philippine Ambassador to Australia Hellen De La Vega, in a speech during the gala dinner celebrating the maiden flight, says it provides “incredible opportunities … which are vast and far-reaching, opening up new and even bigger possibilities.”
The Philippines is Western Australia’s 15th largest economic partner, having traded about $2 billion worth of goods from 2021 to 2022.
“Trade is such a significant element of our relationship with this state. The Philippines is Western Australia’s second largest export market for wheat and for copper ore, third largest market for gold ore and sixth largest market for barley,” she says.
The flight also provides connectivity to the 46,000-strong Filipino community, a big chunk of the more than 410,000 living in Australia. Considered the fifth largest foreign population in the western part of the country, they are mostly in the mining, hospitality and health sectors.
In terms of education, the Philippines is the continent’s ninth-largest source of international students, according to De La Vega.
“I would like to think that generally, Australia is a big place for Filipinos, whether you’re a worker or a student, because Australia is a strong supporter of labor rights and human rights, especially women’s rights,” she says in a separate interview, adding that Australia has a big need for workers.
Before PAL introduced the Perth route, the only available flights had entailed connecting itineraries with total travel time of almost 10 hours—expensive and energy-draining.
For Fernandez, activating long-haul services is “meaningful for growing PAL’s network, and by extension, building up the Philippines as an aviation transfer hub. North American travelers can fly on PAL via Manila to the rest of Southeast Asia, greater China and destinations such as Perth. PAL will work on promoting travel to, from, via and within the Philippines, not just point-to-point traffic.”
With Chapter 11 behind it, PAL will continue to expand and keep up with the growing demand for travel, Ng says in a separate press conference.
The flag carrier is still in the process of rebuilding its network, but is now at 92 percent of its prepandemic flights. He notes bookings are “building up quite well.”
He also says the airline is still looking at Europe for a possible linkage.
“We’re ambitious with our growth,” he says. “If we were going to do it, we want to make sure that we have a really nice aircraft our passengers can enjoy. We’re still exploring which … route in Europe will make the most sense.”
It’s this same confidence that washed over him when he commanded the plane to Perth. Ng says he became more and more relaxed as the plane flew into the night, erasing the jitters he had earlier in the flight.
“That was quite good, except for some air turbulence … and during the approach [since] it was quite windy,” he says of the flight. “I think I should fly more.”
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