Budget carrier Cebu Pacific launched its non-stop flights from Manila to Doha on June 4. The new flights make Cebu Pacific the first Philippine carrier to land in the capital of Qatar. The carrier first announced its intention to fly to Doha in 2013. 
Cebu Pacific launched its Doha service with two weekly flights on board its 436-seat Airbus A330-300 aircraft. Flights depart Manila every Monday and Thursday night at 9:35pm. Each flight arrives in Doha at 2:45am the following day before  departing Doha on Tuesday and Friday at 4:15am to return to Manila. Flights arrive back in the Philippines at 6:35pm.

The new flights are only offered with economy-class seats. Passengers are required to pay extra for additional legroom, wireless internet, checked baggage, seat selection, and hot meals. However, Cebu Pacific says that the lowest year-round fares being offered by the carrier on the Doha route are already 60 percent lower than competing carriers. 
With the third largest Filipino community located in the Middle East, Qatar is a natural fit for Cebu Pacific, who will be 
able to offer the 200,000 overseas Filipinos in the country competitive fares that will enable them to travel home more frequently. 

"With our expanding network, Qatar becomes more accessible from the Philippines, and the Filipino community can reunite with their families more often," said Alex Reyes, General Manager of Cebu Pacific's Long-Haul Division.

The budget carrier may also be able to draw on the rising expatriate population in Qatar that are looking for a tropical holiday destination. According to the Philippine Ambassador to Qatar, Wilfredo Santos, the embassy hopes to utilize Cebu Pacific's new flights to promote tourism to the Philippines in Qatar.

Doha becomes Cebu Pacific's fifth long-haul route and fourth route to the Middle East. As no Philippine carriers have previously served Qatar, it remains to be seen if Cebu Pacific if Doha will become a challenge for the carrier given the smaller population of Filipinos compared to neighbouring nations such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

The risk taken by the airline in serving Qatar is minimal as it is beginning with only two weekly flights. In the past, the carrier had launched new routes with at least three weekly flights. But Cebu Pacific seems to believe that the Qatar market will be much easier to predict than its past endeavours in the Middle East. 

Philippine Airlines previously planned to launch flights to Doha in November 2013. The national flag carrier was going to operate flights six times weekly with an Airbus A330-300. However, the carrier quietly shelved its plans without providing any reason.

Cebu Pacific will only need to compete directlye\sd against Qatar Airways, which reduced capacity on the route in late 2013. It currently operates a daily flight to Clark International Airport and eight weekly flights between Doha and Manila. The recent renegotiation of the Qatar-Philippines Air Services Agreement enables Qatar Airways to launch a second daily flight between Manila and Doha. However, it remains unclear whether it will continue operating from Clark International Airport. 

The budget carrier recently accepted delivery of its sixth widebody Airbus A330 aircraft in March. It currently operates flights from Manila to Dubai, Kuwait, Riyadh, and Sydney. The carrier is presently seeking additional traffic rights to the United Arab Emirates, where it wishes to launch a direct flight to Sharjah. This will enable passengers to connect to low-cost carrier partners serving other destinations in the Middle East. 

Cebu Pacific previously operated service to Dammam before cancelling the route just five months after it launched due to poor load factors. It is believed that Honolulu, Hawaii and Melbourne, Australia will become Cebu Pacific's next long-haul destinations.

Eesha Rohida [ MBA Mktg ]
Aviation News Editor