Low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) is close to setting a launch date and starting ticket sales for Dammam and Riyadh, Manila-based Center for Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said in a published report Monday.
The plan is part of the carrier’s further expansion of its long-haul network from one to six destinations over the next six months in addition to the announced new routes of Sydney and Kuwait.
CEB will start its Manila-Sydney route on Sept. 9, 2014 as it eyes the expansion to Saudi Arabia and the prospects of flying to Sharjah. Its second long-haul destination is Kuwait and will start on Sept. 2 with a frequency of three flights a week.
CAPA said that Jazeera Airways could be a potential partner for Cebu Pacific as its Kuwait base features 15 routes throughout the Middle East, Egypt, and Turkey.
Saudi Arabia is also expected to be almost entirely a point-to-point market for Cebu Pacific although there could potentially be an opportunity to work with Saudi LCC flynas, said CAPA.
CEB’s second and third long-haul routes are Dammam and Riyadh after Dubai. However, CEB has encountered several delays in securing approvals from Saudi authorities.
Alex Reyes, general manager of CEB’s long-haul division told CAPA that the final approvals from Saudi Arabia should be secured shortly, allowing for a launch within the next couple of months. “We are about ready to push the button,” he said.
As passengers in the Philippines-Middle East market -Middle East market make purchasing decisions with short notice, CEB believes it can launch Saudi Arabia within a few weeks of starting ticket sales. Cebu Pacific is initially planning to operate three weekly flights to Dammam as well as three weekly frequencies to Riyadh, said CAPA.
CEB will compete against Philippine Airlines (PAL) on both routes, which launched Manila to Dammam and Riyadh services in late 2013. PAL currently serves Riyadh with four weekly A330 flights and Dammam with three weekly A330 flights, according to OAG data.
Saudi Arabian Airlines also serves the Manila-Riyadh market with seven weekly flights and operates three weekly flights from Manila to Dammam, according to OAG data.
CAPA said that Cebu Pacific has sufficient traffic rights to operate up to seven weekly flights to Riyadh and has unlimited access to Dammam, which has been designated by Saudi Arabian authorities as an open skies airport.
Cebu Pacific could also potentially use some of its seven weekly Philippines-Saudi Arabia rights for Jeddah but earlier ruled out Jeddah as it sees a larger market in Riyadh and Dammam.
Reyes said Dammam, Riyadh, Kuwait, Sydney, and Dubai will use the equivalent of three A330s, leaving two A330s for short-haul routes.
CEB is also planning to fly to Honolulu early next year and is interested to add more traffic rights to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in order to enable the airline to fly to Sharjah.
The airline’s only long-haul route is Dubai which has been relatively performing well following an extremely disappointing initial performance, said CAPA.
CAPA believes that the forthcoming network expansion will provide the biggest test yet for CEB’s long-haul operation, using its fleet of Airbus A330-300 aircraft for the regional operation.
This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014.