Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Manila's Cebu Air to lease 8 A330-300s for non-Asian routes

(Reuters) - The Philippines' largest budget carrier, Cebu Air Inc, said on Tuesday it will lease up to eight Airbus A330-300s as it launches long-haul flights as part of an expansion aimed at adding new markets to its existing Asian routes.

The additional aircraft would allow Cebu Pacific, the airline operated by Cebu Air, to start flying to Australia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe and the United States by the third quarter of 2013.

"The A330-300 will give us the lowest cost-per-seat, allowing us to drive long-haul fares 35 percent lower than those currently offered by other airlines and as much as 80 percent lower when Cebu Pacific offers promo fares," Lance Gokongwei, the company's president, said in a statement.

"This aircraft type is very well suited to the kind of network we want to build and the routes we want to launch," he said, adding the company hopes to provide more affordable direct flights to an underserved market of about 11 million Filipinos living and working overseas.

The A330-300 aircraft carries 295 people up to 5,650 nautical miles or 10,500 kilometres, with a three-class layout.

Philippine carriers have been banned since April 2010 from flying to Europe due to safety issues, but Gokongwei said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines was addressing the concerns which should result in a lifting of the ban soon.

"With the support of all major airlines, we're confident that before the end of the year, the blacklist should be lifted," he later told reporters.

Cebu Air, a unit of Philippine conglomerate JG Summit Holdings Inc, competes with Philippine Airlines PAL.L. Its shares were almost flat in afternoon trade while PAL was up 1.7 percent in a broad market that edged up 0.4 percent.

In June, Cebu Air announced it had put in orders for 30 new A321neos and seven A320s from Airbus, a unit of France's EADS, with delivery between 2015 and 2021 as it sought to double its fleet and expand routes.

It currently operates 10 Airbus A319, 19 Airbus A320s and eight ATR-72 500 aircraft, with an average fleet age of 3.6 years.

The company said it expects to take an additional 23 Airbus A320 and 30 Airbus A321neo aircraft between 2012 and 2021. It plans to raise a total $150 million to $160 million via bank loans to finance four new A320 jets arriving this year.

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