By FIL C. SIONIL
Philippine Airlines (PAL) is acquiring nine small-seater Bombardier aircraft to beef up its domestic route operations and compete head-on with other domestic carriers.
In an interview, PAL president Jaime Bautista disclosed the expansion of its domestic fleet involves the purchase of three 50 seater Q-300 series and six 78-seater Q-400 series turboprop aircraft from Toronto-based, Bombardier Aerospace.
"The Q means quiet," he pointed out, stressing that these new series of turboprops are no longer ear-splitting with the installation of the active noise and vibration suppression system designed to reduce cabin noise and vibration levels to less than those of jetliners.
Total acquisition cost, which includes the necessary spare parts, engine and training of the crew and pilots, is estimated at $ 150 million.
Bautista said PAL may have to dip into its earnings and/or borrow for the capital outlay. "But, we may no longer need to get a guarantee since the amount involve is not that big."
He was referring to guarantee that PAL obtained from US Export-Import Bank (US Eximbank) for its purchase of Boeing 777 series to lighten the financial load.
The 50-seatter will be used to increase the Boracay destination, which currently ferries foreign and local tourists four times daily since the route was opened on December 15 last year.
Air Philippines, PAL’s subsidiary, is servicing this route.
"The plan is to bring our Boracay frequency to eight times a day," said Bautista, who seemed unfazed by the recent developments in the domestic aviation industry.
"We welcome such development," Bautista commented on the said buy-out by Ambassador Alfredo M. Yao, of Asian Spirit and the future plan of the banker-industrialist to acquire Southeast Asian Airlines or Seair with the end in view of merging the operations of the two airlines.
He disclosed that in the past, PAL management was also considering in acquiring — lock, stock and barrel — Asian Spirit but such plan did not push through.
According to Bautista, the Bombardier Q-300 series will start coming in sometime next week and will have its maiden flight, if all systems go, on Sunday, April 6.
On the other hand, the 76-seatter will be used for inter-island routes with Manila and Cebu as PAL’s main hub.
The idea is to bring passengers from Manila to Cebu, then, from the Southern island, passengers can be ferried to nearby provinces such as Iloilo, Bacolod and Bohol.
This strategy will provide ease and comfort to the riding public, he explained.
Bautista, meanwhile, said PAL will start its maiden flight to Macau this coming May 1, thereby, increasing to more than six its destinations in the economic giant, People’s Republic of China.