Cebu Pacific’s long-haul low cost 2014 expansion to Australia, Saudi Arabia

Cebu Pacific is planning to launch several new long-haul destinations, up to five in the Middle East and one in Australia, in 2014 as it expands its A330-300 fleet. The carrier currently operates two A330-300s and is taking three additional A330s in 2014, with deliveries in Feb-2014, early 2Q2014 and late 3Q2014, according to CAPA’s Fleet Database.

The carrier’s new long-haul low-cost operation, which now consists of just one route with Manila-Dubai, has experienced a challenging start. There are plenty of options to expand the long-haul network but each potential destination has its own challenges.

There will be stiff competition to overcome in Cebu Pacific’s next two long-haul markets – Australia and Saudi Arabia – as well as in most of its other planned new markets in the Middle East – Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. All are expected to be launched by the end of 2014, starting with two cities in Saudi Arabia and one in Australia.

Australia will initially be served with five weekly flights although Cebu Pacific hopes to move relatively quickly to a daily service to its first Australian destination, then later on look at also serving the second destination. Owing to an on-going bilateral stand-off (Australia wants new Philippine beyond rights for Jetstar in return for added capacity for Philippine carriers), Cebu Pacific currently only has sufficient capacity entitlements to operate five weekly flights to Australia. But it is confident that Australia and the Philippines will agree to an extended air services agreement in 2014 which will give it the ability to expand in the market.

Cebu Pacific also is interested in potentially using its A330 fleet to serve Hawaii. But Honolulu and plans for A320 service to Guam are contingent on the Philippines being upgraded by the US FAA to a Category 1 safety rating. Philippine authorities are confident the upgrade will occur in 2014, which will also enable PAL to pursue expansion in the US market. But an upgrade is far from certain.

If a Category 1 rating were to be secured within the next few months, Cebu Pacific could adjust its Middle East plans to free up capacity for Honolulu. But the more likely scenario is to launch Honolulu in 2015, assuming a Category 1 rating is secured by then. According to Cebu Pacific’s fleet plan, the carrier is slated to take a sixth A330s in 2015, which would give it the capacity to launch Honolulu as well as potentially add a second Australian destination.

Cebu Pacific also is also seeking to be removed from the EU blacklist, which currently prevents it from serving Europe. But the carrier is unlikely to launch services to the EU for at least the short to medium term. Cebu Pacific prefers to stick with widebody routes of less than 10 hours as the economics of longer routes are not attractive.

Russia could potentially be in its preferred range and has reportedly been considered. But Russia is not currently in the plans for 2014. Cebu Pacific also recently applied for rights to serve Israel. But Tel Aviv service is also not in its current plans for 2014.