Philippines-based budget carrier, Cebu Pacific Air has been making good use of its sole ATR 72-500 freighter to transport not only vital Covid-19 supplies, but surging e-commerce volumes as well.
While a significant number of Cebu Pacific’s passenger aircraft are grounded due to the pandemic, Cebu Pacific deputy chief finance officer, Mark Cezar, notes that having a dedicated freighter means essential cargo is still be transported at reasonable cost.
This includes medical supplies and other vital goods to help in the country’s COVID-19 relief effort.
“During the pandemic, Cebu Pacific has been able to fly humanitarian goods such as medical supplies across the Philippines, free-of-charge,” Cezar says. The freighters have been used to serve government and non-government organisations in addition to businesses, he adds.
Cebu Pacific started replacing its ATR 72-500 passenger aircraft in 2016 with new ATR 72-600s, but rather than phase-out all the -500s, it decided to convert two of the aircraft to freighters.
The first ATR converted freighter was delivered last year, while the second is expected to arrive within this year’s fourth quarter.
The ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 are both powered by the Pratt & Whitney’s PW127. Cezar says: “The PW127 combines excellent take-off capabilities on the ATR with good fuel burn and low maintenance costs.”
Cebu Pacific operates a large Pratt & Whitney PW127 fleet because it needs an aircraft like the ATR which has short take-off and landing (STOL) capability. “The PW127 is ideal for STOL aircraft because it is a light-weight engine and it allows the aircraft to have a slow approach when coming into land, which is what you want when accessing short runways and airstrips,” Cezar says.
“Having a STOL aircraft in our fleet allows us versatility in where we can fly. Only about 30 per cent of the airports in the Philippines can accommodate a jet aircraft, and having the capability to serve smaller airports allows us to fly to more routes”.
Cebu Pacific decided to add dedicated ATR freighters because it had a growing cargo business and found that belly-hold space on passenger aircraft was insufficient.
“It was just not enough. Passenger flights prioritise baggage, leaving limited space for cargo, so the space that can be allocated for cargo tended to vary,” he says.
Cebu Pacific’s move into dedicated cargo operations also aligned to the move by the airline’s parent company, J.G. Summit Holdings, into e-commerce. J.G. Summit owns shopping centres, but sees online shopping as a trend that is only going to grow. J.G Summit has also invested in e-commerce platforms, such as Shopee.
“Due to the strict quarantine restrictions in the Philippines, online shopping has flourished,” says Cezar. “In the past, it was a slow burn for online shopping, given the penchant of Filipinos to go to the malls.
“Having the capability to fly all-cargo and freighter services allows online shopping platforms and merchants to ship goods much faster and effectively meet customer demands and expectations. Speedy logistics also enables transporting to hubs in bulk, allowing for more competitive pricing and even deals, such as free shipping,” he adds.
Cebu Pacific’s dedicated freighter service has also helped Philippine exporters, especially those based in remote parts of the country.
Cezar says: “Our wide domestic network enables traders and exporters to bring in fresh products from various points in the Philippines, consolidate these [in Manila] and send to key export markets.
“For example, fresh fruits, high-value vegetables, and even live seafood can easily be flown from the provinces, then onwards to destinations across Asia, and even the Middle East.”
The Pratt & Whitney-powered ATR 72-500 freighter can carry UDLs which are transferred from ATR freighters arriving in Manila to Cebu Pacific’s widebody aircraft for export.
“In an archipelago like the Philippines, having multiple points of connectivity and modalities of transportation is integral to economic development. Steady and reliable logistics is critical to move goods and people – whether for trade, commerce or tourism,” says Cezar. “Having robust air connectivity is fundamental in driving growth in the economy down to the grassroots level,” he adds.
Cebu Pacific currently flies to 30 domestic destinations from its Manila (MNL) and Cebu (CEB) hubs, on top of five international destinations: Dubai (DBX), Hong Kong (HKG), Nagoya (NGO), Seoul (ICN), and Singapore (SIN).