With all the noise about how bad the airline industry is right now, it’s easy to overlook the good news. Yesterday, March 8, Cebu Pacific marked 25 years of flying. Many airlines have risen and disappeared in far less time, but Cebu Pacific continues to power ahead. Despite a rough 2020, the airline is looking ahead to the next 25 years.
From a germ of an idea to the first flight to today, Cebu Pacific is now one of the biggest players in the Filipino airline industry. The airline has 66 aircraft, of which 36 are presently in service. Those planes range from ATR 72s to Airbus A330-300s.
In 2019, the last year of normal operations, Cebu Pacific carried 22,468,000 passengers and flew 143,89 sectors. Over 25 years, the airline has carried more than 180 million passengers.
“On our 25th year, we remain humbled to be part of our passengers’ stories and life journeys,” says Cebu Pacific’s Candice Iyog.
Cebu Pacific help bring air travel to the people across The Philippines
The Philippines comprises 7,640 islands (around 2,000 are inhabited) that run north-south in an archipelago some 1,850 kilometers long and 700 kilometers wide at its widest southern point. In such a place, flying is a key means of getting around. Cebu Pacific has succeeded because, like similar low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines, it has democratized air travel and made it accessible to the everyday person.
Cebu Pacific still celebrates the birth of a baby girl called Haven on one of its long-haul flights. When Cebu Pacific flew its 150 millionth passenger in 2017, an unassuming gentleman called Alfredo Cruz, the airline showered him with enough frequent flyer points to buy around two dozen future return flights. Cebu Pacific and its passengers have also raised over US$1 million to support marginalized kids across The Philippines via UNICEF’s Change for Good program.
Today, the airline focuses on tourist destinations across the country, flying to places like Boracay, Bohol, Coron, Siargao, and Puerto Princesa. Tourism is a vital industry in The Philippines. Tourism accounts for over 13% of all employment and helps to lift the living standards of tens of millions of Filipino workers and their families.
Current Cebu Pacific CEO tells what inspired his dad to start the airline
Cebu Pacific’s 25th birthday has the current president and CEO Lance Y. Gokongwei in a reflective mood. His dad, known around the traps as Big John started the airline. Big John didn’t have any airline experience, but he liked planes and the airline industry. Big John was inspired by what Southwest Airlines was then doing. He saw a gap in the market for a local version.
“He was in the United States at that time and read about a low-cost carrier called Southwest. That’s how all this started,” says Mr Gokongwei.
“He came up to my office one day and said, ‘I started this airline, can you think of anyone who could help?’ For me, that meant he wanted me to help, so that’s what I did.”
Twenty-five years down the track, Big John is gone, but his airline lives on. It hasn’t necessarily been an easy ride, the last 12 months especially. Cebu Pacific expects to post a loss of around US$515 million for the 2020 calendar year. Last week, Lance Gokongwei signed off on a US$329 million loan facility to bolster liquidity. But Cebu Pacific’s CEO has no doubts his airline will fly through the travel downturn and prosper in the future.
“We have witnessed a lot of changes in 25 years, changes that enabled us to grow and reaffirm why we fly. As we celebrate this milestone, our commitment remains: to make the skies accessible for every one of you in the years to come.”