CASA approvals force another airline to change launch plans: Philippine Airlines to use ageing A340s on new Brisbane route

Philippine Airlines (PAL) plans to take delivery of its first A321neo in Mar-2018 but has decided to launch nonstop flights to Brisbane with A340-300s.


Summary

  • Philippine Airlines has confirmed plans to launch nonstop flights from Brisbane to Manila in late Mar-2018;
  • Philippine Airlines has decided to launch the new nonstop route with A340s, featuring an outdated business class product and overhead video monitors in economy;
  • Philippine Airlines needs to secure CASA approval before it proceeds with a plan to deploy new A321neos, which will feature lie flat business class seats and seatback video monitors in both cabins, on the Brisbane-Manila route.

PAL announced on 25-Jan-2018 the launch of nonstop flights between Manila and Brisbane from 25-Mar-2018. PAL stated the route would initially operate with three flights, increasing to four weekly A340 flights from 1-May-2018.

PAL’s decision to upgrade Brisbane-Manila from one-stop via Darwin to nonstop was first reported by Blue Swan on 30-Oct-2017. At the time, the intention was to launch the new nonstop service with PAL’s new fleet of A321neos.

See related report: Philippine Airlines plans to launch nonstop service to Brisbane in 1Q2018

PAL now plans to launch the route with A340-300s but said in the 25-Jan-2018 announcement that it expected to begin operating Brisbane-Manila with A321neos “later in the first half of 2018”.

PAL still plans to receive its first A321neo at about the time nonstop flights to Brisbane are launched. Airbus recently informed PAL its first A321neo will be delivered in the second half of Mar-2018. This is four months behind the initial schedule due to Pratt & Whitney engine issues but is only a few weeks later than what PAL was expecting in Oct-2017.

PAL’s decision to use the A340 initially for Brisbane-Manila therefore was likely driven more by Australia Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) certification issues than further aircraft delivery delays. CASA has not yet certified the A321neo. PAL will also need specific approval from CASA before it can use the A321neo to any of its Australia destinations.

Previously it has taken foreign airlines up to several months to secure approval from CASA to operate a new aircraft type. For example, it took a year for Thai Airways to secure CASA approval to operate the A350 to Australia although the type had general CASA approval and was already being operated on Australia routes by other foreign airlines.

See related report: Thai Airways finally improves Melbourne product by introducing A350s

In the case of the A321neo, PAL will be the first airline in the Australian market to operate the new type. In addition to Brisbane, PAL plans to subsequently use the A321neo on the Melbourne-Manila and Sydney-Manila routes. PAL currently serves Melbourne and Sydney using retrofitted 309-seat A330-300s, featuring lie flat business class seats and a premium economy cabin.

PAL’s A340s are configured with 254 seats including 36 outdated recliner style business class seats in 2x2x2 configuration. The new A321neos are 31% smaller, accommodating only 176 passengers, but offer lie flat business class seats and a significantly better in-flight entertainment (IFE) system in both cabins.

PAL’s A321neo will have seatback IFE monitors in economy while the A340-300s have overhead video monitors in economy. The A320ceos and A321ceos that PAL now uses to operate its four times weekly Brisbane-Darwin-Manila service have overhead video monitors in both cabins and recliner seats in business.

Using 174-seat long-range narrowbody aircraft is a better fit than larger widebody aircraft for the Brisbane-Manila nonstop route, particularly if PAL is to succeed at eventually introducing a daily service. The four-engine A340 would likely not be sustainable over the long run and is therefore considered a temporary solution until PAL is able to secure CASA for the A321neo.

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