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PAL aims for five-star rating with modern tri-class aircraft

Philippine Airlines on Saturday flew its first Airbus A350-900 from Blagnac Delivery Center in Toulouse, France to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, as the flag carrier bids to become a five-star carrier with the most modern twin-aisle, tri-class aircraft.

“We look forward with full confidence that our new Airbus A350-900 will help us attain our goal to become a true five-star Philippine carrier, a gift to the people of the Philippines, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world,” PAL president and chief operating officer Jaime Bautista told a crowd of European and Filipino executives during a ceremonial dinner  at Toulouse Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art on July 13, on the eve of the 13-hour flight. Toulouse, the fourth largest city in France, serves as the global headquarters of Airbus.

The 280-ton ultra-long range jet, with a length of 66.8 meters and a wingspan of 64.75 meters, has a maximum range of 14,800 kilometers that will allow PAL to fly nonstop between Manila and New York starting October 2018.  This means that PAL can avoid the technical stopover in Vancouver on the way to New York and the payload restrictions associated with other aircraft. 

“Two or three years ago, we decided to purchase Airbus A350-900, thinking that we really need to serve the Filipino flying passengers in the East Coast of the United States. We thought we need an aircraft that will serve the purpose.  We decided to order A350 for many reasons. One is that this aircraft will allow us to have more seats [295],” said Bautista.

"The aircraft is a game changer in the industry with their greater range, lower fuel burn emissions and lower operating costs. This aircraft utilizes advanced technology and top-notch design for improved operational performance and will be assigned to premium routes and will thus address the need for comfort, convenience and efficiency," he said.  PAL, currently a four-star airline, aims to join a short list of prestigious airlines with five-star ratings given by UK-based consultancy firm Skytrax. 

There are only 10 five-star-rated airlines, including Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Garuda Indonesia, Eva Air, ANA All Nipon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Etihad and Hainan Airlines.

“This aircraft will have a longer range, meaning we will be able to fly non-stop from Manila to JFK [International Airport in New York] without any penalty and will allow us to carry more cargo.  That means more revenue for PAL.  On the cabin features, this will allow us to make our passengers happier in flying more comfortably and enjoy a different service from the other airlines,” Bautista said.

PAL president Jaime Bautista at Airbus A350 XWB delivery center in Toulouse, France
“We ordered six of these aircraft.  The second will be delivered next month and two more within the year. The last two will be in the first quarter of 2019.  We have also options for another six aircraft which we can convert into A350-1000 series.  This will allow us to have more seats.  The initial discussion that we have with Airbus is we will have 370 seats,” said Bautista.

The twin-aisle aircraft is a member of the A350 XWB (extra wide body) family that is said to be 25-percent more fuel efficient than other aircraft that belong to the same weight category.

A350 XWB is described as the world’s most modern and efficient aircraft family, offering true long-range capability, unrivalled operational efficiency and the most exclusive passenger experience.

It features the most modern cabin, with full connectivity, LED ambient lighting with 16.7 million colors and latest IFE with HD screens on all seats.  It has vertical sidewalls, higher ceiling, unique flat floor, greater legroom, 18-inch seat width and wide panoramic windows.

Airbus A350 XWB will also allow passengers to enjoy the quietest cabin in its class, Bautista said. The air management systems help passengers to experience a more relaxing flight. Total cabin air is renewed every two to three minutes in a draft-free environment at the optimum temperature (8 temperature zone settings) and with 20-percent more fresh air.

PAL director Michael Tan
The aircraft’s secret lies in its aerodynamic design and the use of composite materials such as carbon-fiber reinforced plastic that supports lower fuel burn, easier maintenance and increased resistance to corrosion.  About 70 percent of the A350 XWB structure is made of advanced materials, including 53 percent composites.  Composites are not only light weight and very strong, but also cost significantly less to maintain.

PAL received the first of its six orders for the tri-class A350-900 on Saturday, with the five others to be delivered from the second quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019.  The plane has a list price of about $317 million each.

Eric Schulz, chief commercial officer of Airbus, described A350-900 as a fantastic plane, while Dominic Horwood, the chief customer officer of Rolls Royce, said the aircraft’s engine is the most advanced Trent engine yet.  “It has unparalleled reliability in service.  It has 99.9 percent operational reliability,” said Horwood.

PAL is the oldest Asian airline with 77 years of flying experience.  Bautista said A350-900 will become a new flagship of the young and trend-setting PAL fleet, “raising the standards for cabin comfort for our beloved passengers, especially for extra-long flights".

PAL's A350-900 has 295 seats spread across three classes.  The business class cabin has 30 seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, so that every single passenger has direct access to the aisle.  Seat pitch is at 44 inches and seat width is up to 24 inches. The seat – which reclines to a full-flat bed measuring 78 inches in length – has an adjustable air cushion to adjust seat firmness, lumbar massage feature, additional storage for personal items, power ports and augmented reading lights.

The premium economy class has 24 seats on a 2-4-2 configuration in an exclusive cabin. Seat pitch is at 38 inches and seat width is at 19 inches. Seats have a recline of up to 8 inches and are equipped with legrest and footrest, additional front pockets for personal items, bottle holders, reading lights and power ports.

The economy class cabin has 241 seats on a roomy 3-3-3 configuration. Seat pitch is at 33 inches, seat width at 18 inches and a recline of up to 6 inches. Features include a 4-way headrest and USB power ports.

All seats on the PAL Airbus A350 have personal TV screens with dual screen functionality, which means that passengers can pair their screens with their mobile device via the myPAL Player app to select content to be displayed on the screen or track the flight’s progress through the Flight Map.  Wi-Fi service is offered free for all passengers (subject to time and volume caps), with affordable renewal plans.

PAL's A350 XWB also features special LED mood lighting, providing passengers for a more intimate in-flight experience that helps passengers adjust to time zone and day vs. night changes.

Joost van der Heijden, vice-president of marketing for Asia and North America at Airbus, said the European aircraft manufacturer sources about $300 million every year from the Philippines. 

“This is in particular driven by A350.  With the A350 ramping up in the coming years, we expect the sourcing volume from the Philippines to increase by about 50 percent in the coming five years,” van der Heijden said.

He said about 1,700 Filipino workers are involved in the development of A350 XWB family, particularly in the production of galley equipment.  BE Aerospace, which has a facility in Tanauan, Batangas, produces galley systems for the A350 XWB. Moog, which is based in Baguio City, also manufactures actuators and valves control systems for all Airbus programs, including the primary and secondary flight controls of A350 XWB.

“We are committed to the long-term development of aerospace in the Philippines.  We are supporting the skill and sustainable employment of about 1,700 people,” van der Heijden said.  “The A350-900 that will be entering the Philippine Airline fleet has a lot of equipment from the Philippines in it.”

Daniel Baron, the cabin designer of PAL’s first A350-900 plane, said the new aircraft promises to deliver premium experience with touches of heritage and modern features such as mood lighting system.  “It is so different from anything we have seen,” he said.

Bautista said the A350-900 aircraft may be initially deployed to Manila-London route and possibly to other parts of Europe and North America.  He said this would also encourage more foreign passengers to take PAL, thereby increasing their share from the current 10 percent of the airline’s market.  He said PAL may increase its flights between Manila and New York from four times weekly to daily, once the A350-900 aircraft are deployed to the route.

Services to other points in North America and/or Europe are expected to follow as more aircraft join the fleet over the next 12 months, including possible routes to Seattle, Chicago and a point in Western Europe.

Van der Heijden said that globally, Airbus has received 882 orders for A350 XWB family as of June 2018, of which 182 were already delivered.  The company which has more than 55,000 employees across the globe has delivered a total of 11,229 aircraft for 18,397 orders as of June 2018, which means it has a backlog of 7,168.

Its best-selling aircraft is the single-aisle A320neo, patronized by many budget carriers.  It is also the manufacturer of the largest commercial aircraft in operation—the A380.

Van der Heijden said PAL ordered its first Airbus plane—A300B4 or the “Lovebus” as early as 1978.  Today, PAL operates 46 Airbus aircraft, including 7 A320, 20 A321, 15A330, 4A340 and the first A350-900. 

 “We are very proud to welcome Philippine Airlines as the newest A350 operator,” said van der Heijden.

Topics: Philippine Airlines , Airbus A350-900 , Jaime Bautista , Eric Schulz
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