Philippine Airlines ups capacity on Manila – London as 777s return to route

Asian flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) will boost its operations between Manila and London Heathrow this winter with the return of its Boeing 777-300ERs on the route from September 19, 2017. The aircraft, which initially served the city pair between November 2013 and August 2014 while PAL awaited the return of its Category 1 US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety rating, will deliver a significant capacity upgrade on the route versus the Airbus A340-300 it will replace.

To accommodate the larger aircraft during the off peak season PAL will initially cut frequencies between Manila and London from daily to four times weekly, but the daily operation will be reinstated from mid-December 2017, boosting weekly return seats to 5,180, up 45% on that currently offered by the A340-300.

CHART – Philippine Airlines one-way weekly seat capacity to London: Nov-2013 to Feb-2018Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

With the range and operational capability of the 777-300ER, PAL says it “will be at par with other full service carriers along the route”. Its 777-300ERs are configured in a two class 370-seat arrangement with accommodation for 42 business class and 328 economy passengers. This compares with 254 passengers on the A340 with the upgauge covering both the premium and standard cabins.

However, an analysis by CAPA – Centre for Aviation suggests that the aircraft may ultimately be too large for PAL to sustain daily year-round flights, despite increasing demand on the route. In its recently published insights report titled Philippine Airlines’ long haul strategy Part 1: accelerated fleet growth and London upgrade CAPA says PAL recognises that it may not be able to maintain a daily year-round 777 service to London and could end up again reducing the schedule during off peak periods in 2018.

It says that PAL president Jaimie Bautista recently confirmed that whether PAL is able to operate the flight daily year-round depends “on the requirement of the market”.

The deployment of the 777-300ER of the Manila – London route is made possible by the further growth of PAL’s 777-300ER fleet. The airline’s original fleet of six 777-300ERs was delivered from late 2009 to 2013, but it subsequently added two additional aircraft from the final quarter of 2016 to boost its fleet eight units. Now, two further aircraft will arrive from December 2017 to support the London deployment.

To accommodate the accelerated timetable for the London deployment from September 2017 PAL will initially use a 777-300ER currently allocated to the Manila – Los Angeles market and will instead use an A340-300 on certain flights in September, October and November until the new aircraft are delivered.

The CAPA report says this latest 777-300ER lease deal has enabled PAL to bring forward the upgrade of the London route by at least one year. The airline was initially expected to transition from the A340-300 to A350-900 when the new generation widebodies started to enter its fleet from 2018, but these will instead be used to deliver non-stop connectivity between Manila and New York.