Cebu Pacific explains decision to go max-pax on A330neo

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There were shocked gasps Tuesday morning in the Airbus chalet at the Paris Air Show as Philippine low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific announced it will install 460 seats in an all-economy configuration aboard the A330-900neo aircraft that it ordered today — a new maximum-passenger figure, up from the previous 440 max-pax ceiling, enabled by work Airbus did to rearrange the lavatories in what its chief salesman called “fruitful collaboration” with the airline. It also placed the first order for ultra-dense 194-passenger A320neo aircraft.

Deliveries of the A330-900neos will start in 2021. These will be very uncomfortable aircraft, except perhaps for the two pilots and passengers of petite proportions. But Cebu Pacific is clear in its mission to deliver ultra-low-cost travel in the region, which is particularly crucial given the number of Philippine nationals who work across Asia in the service industry, as well as the structural aviation constraints on its operations at airports in the destination countries. Cebu Pacific is equally transparent about the #PaxEx it provides on board, offering images and seat maps of its current-generation A330s, for instance, so passengers know what they are purchasing.

The airline’s current A330-300 aircraft seat 436 passengers. Image: Cebu Pacific

“We’re operating in Asia in one of the most constrained environments from an infrastructure point of view,” Mike Szucs, chief executive advisor to the airline, explains in answer to a question from Runway Girl Network about the airline’s passenger experience. “One of the things you see there is the slot restrictions. We see them very much in Manila itself, but it really is all the way around the region. Frankly, what we’re looking for is as big a bus as we possibly can find to fly people on what are the trunk routes.”

Cebu Pacific is looking to build on the current operation of its ultra-high density current-generation Airbus A330-300ceo aircraft with the similarly sized — but containing 6% more seats — A330-900neo.

“We have very successfully over the last couple of years been deploying the A330ceos on routes that perhaps we didn’t envisage that we would,” Szucs says. “For example, we’re four times a day — on an A330ceo — going between Manila and Hong Kong. We’ve recently started flying to other places round the region: Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, on A330s. These are sector lengths on average around three hours, the reason being that the infrastructure constrains the aircraft that can take off and land in those city pairs. The fact that we’ve 460 seats, thanks to the reconfiguration of some clever stuff that Airbus has done — we predict that it’ll be a superb aircraft for those sorts of routes.”

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Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer emphasized the airline’s role in both the configuration and the rise in the max-pax limit, noting additionally that this is an example of an airline addressing the middle of the market with a combination of the A330neo and A320neo families.

Cebu Pacific also ordered 10 A321XLR and five A320neo aircraft at the same time as the A330neos. The airline is still addressing the configuration of the XLRs, but looks set to take the maximum passengers permitted. On the A320neo side, the airline is the first to select the latest 194-passenger max-pax configuration of the smaller member of the neo family.

“The A330neos will progressively be replacing our existing fleet of eight A330ceos,” says chief financial officer Andrew Huang, noting that the narrowbody order “is on top of our existing order of 32 A321neos”, of which 30 remain to be delivered. “We are adding the XLR to provide us with additional long-range capabilities, enabling us to fly direct to more international destinations from bases in the Philippines outside of Manila.”

“On the A330s,” he explains, “what we’re doing is looking at how we improve our density and frequency of service. So we’re really looking at, for instance, growing in the routes that we currently serve. Narita, for instance: we just introduced also an A330 service to Kansai which is doing very well. We just converted recently from an A320 service in Pudong to now an A330 service, and we are packed full. We are really delighted with this airplane.”

But there are also ultra-long-haul ultra-low-cost routes that the airline is eyeing.

“It’s really to go to the regional routes that we’re flying to,” Huang says, but adds that “we also fly as far as Dubai, we fly to Sydney, we fly to Melbourne, and we will opportunistically look at where else we can fly. This A330[neo] will give us that capability of doing both, efficiently, on a unit cost basis.”

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