aviation industry

Cebu Pacific adds more planes as it struggles with disruptions

Lance Spencer Yu

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Cebu Pacific adds more planes as it struggles with disruptions

NEW PLANE. Cebu Pacific receives a brand-new A320 neo plane assembled in Tianjin, China.

Photo by Lance Spencer Yu/Rappler

The timely addition of the leased A320neo plane is expected to give the airline ‘additional reliability’ as engine-related problems and ‘strange incidents’ rock its operating fleet

TIANJIN, China – Cebu Pacific flew home a new 188-seater A320neo on Friday, June 30, as it attempts to ramp up its fleet amid criticisms from the public and lawmakers about its frequent flight disruptions.

“For disruption on the day, we now have more aircraft to support that operation. This aircraft, it will be flying, but it will enable another aircraft to become an additional aircraft on the day,” Cebu Pacific chief executive officer Michael Szucs told international media on Friday, June 30.

The unit is the first China-assembled A320neo acquired by Cebu Pacific through a 12-year lease with Clover Aircraft Leasing. It’s also the eighth out of the 15 aircraft that the budget carrier expects to receive in 2023. The timely addition to the fleet comes just as Cebu Pacific drew the attention of senators for its flight cancellations and alleged overbooking issues.

“This is an aircraft that now comes into the fleet and gives us additional reliability on top of what we’ve already done,” Szucs said.

Currently, about 17% of Cebu Pacific’s operating fleet became unavailable. At one point, nine of the airline’s long-term aircraft were grounded in a span of six to eight weeks. Without enough standby aircraft available, some flights were cancelled.

“We just don’t have the standby aircraft to absorb all of the power,” Szucs said. “So we’re building that into our plan…. By the time we get to Christmas, we’ll have gone to more than double the number of standby aircraft we have.”

Unavailable aircraft

Why were so many aircraft being grounded? The low-cost airline CEO attributed this first to issues with the Pratt & Whitney engines used by the planes.

“This was due to Pratt & Whitney engines, which had to come off-wing sooner than anticipated to go to overhaul. And there weren’t standby engines available to replace them. We were led to believe that that would be the case, but this was not because globally, there was becoming this issue with this engine,” Szucs said.

(READ: Airlines blame spare parts shortage, maintenance woes for canceled flights)

Around the world, more than 160 planes have been grounded because of maintenance and supply chain problems involving Pratt & Whitney, with an airline even going bankrupt after about half of its planes were grounded due to “faulty” engines.

Aside from the engine-related problem, Szucs also cited the “impact of strange incidents beyond normal wear-and-tear of an aircraft that requires regular maintenance.” For instance, a maintenance provider had punctured the skin of one of their planes, sending that plane out for eight months. In another incident, “sudden, exceptionally strong winds” were said to have blown a ramp onto another aircraft, grounding that plane for at least six months.

Szucs admitted that the airline struggled to cope with the combination of events and perhaps lacked in communicating with passengers, who have suffered due to cancelled flights and ruined life events.

“I think we could probably consider how better could we look after the interest of the passengers that were affected. But there was no way that we could not affect the passengers, because the scale of the cutbacks that we needed to do, given the reduction in our fleet, was just so large,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.