Airlines bullish on Mindanao Air Freight Outlook

The airline industry is looking South in response to the country's brighter economic prospects. Mike Baños reports.

The Philippines' two major domestic airlines are bullish on the growth of the airfreight industry in Northern Mindanao over the next few years.

Since it started operations in the second quarter of 2013, the main air gateway in Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental (CGY) has accommodated 58,309 flights, some 6,835,913 passengers and 87,554 metric tons of cargo which has made it the fifth busiest airport in the Philippines after Manila, Cebu, Davao and Kalibo, which are all international airports.

Over the four equivalent years it’s been in operations from the 2nd quarter of 2013 to 2nd Quarter, 2017 for which data has been available from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), CGY has been averaging approximately 14,600 flights, some 1.75 million passengers and 22,000 MT of cargo annually. Broken down into average figures per quarter of the 16-month period it’s been in operation, that’s 3,644 flights per quarter moving some 428,000 passengers and 5,472 MT of cargo.

“We expect to breach the 1.9 million passenger mark this year,” said Engr. Jose G, Budiongan, concurrently CAAP Area X and Laguindingan Airport Manager.

Budiongan’s optimism has been buoyed by the advent of more direct flights from the airport which could bump its previous metrics up further. Leading domestic carrier Cebu Pacific launched CGY last 20 October 2017 as its seventh regional hub, with nine domestic flights now directly connected to the airport. Philippine Airlines, for its part, has deployed the bigger Airbus A321 on its busy MLA-CGY route raising its capability to carry more passengers and cargo with fewer flights.

Despite the larger capacities now available, cargo forwarders and other air freight companies still have some issues with some airlines cargo policies which constrain them to resort to less efficient multi-modal systems combining air, sea and land transports.

However, Philippine Airlines (PR) says this issue could be addressed if clients reconfigure their shipments to fit the dimensions of the Airbus A321 now deployed along most of its domestic routes.

“PR being a passenger and cargo airline gives priority on its passenger and their baggage allowances and whatever space is left is maximized by loading of cargoes,” said Jerry P. Calaluan, Assistant Vice President, Cargo Sales Division, of PR’s Cargo Business Department.

“Although based on study, experience and trend, we can load at least 2-3 tons of cargoes based on a full passenger load and maybe more if the passenger is less.”

“We have actually improved the weight per piece of cargo allowed from 100 to 150 kgs. but since manual loading and maneuvering of such a piece would be difficult for an individual inside the aircraft, we cannot accept higher than that. The same is true for skidded cargoes which normally do not fit the aircraft door aside from its weight of more than 150 kgs.”

To accommodate more cargo along this route, Calaluan said PAL has been suggesting to its customers to reconfigure the packaging dimensions/weight according to the specifications of its aircraft being utilized in the route.

“Utilizing a much bigger or wide body aircraft is dictated by our commercial sales group where passengers are our main consideration,” he noted.

“PAL operates 28 flights weekly between Manila and Laguindingan Airport (CGY), the main portal to Cagayan de Oro City, the regional center and business hub of Northern Mindanao,” noted Ma. Cielo Villaluna, PAL spokesperson. “The multiple service provides us the opportunity to carry passengers and cargo between the two points. Our goal is to provide a balance in serving the transport of people and high-quantity goods which is part and parcel of the PAL brand of service.” 

From CGY, PAL operates intra-domestic routes such as Cagayan de Oro to Cebu and Davao, with 28 flights weekly. By December 16, PAL will also be operating thrice weekly from Cagayan de Oro to Clark, bringing the total number of intra-domestic flights out of CGY to 31 weekly. 

“As additional support for the Mindanao Region, Philippine Airlines also operates numerous flights out of Davao to Manila (and Cagayan), including other intra-domestic sectors like Cebu, Tagbilaran and Zamboanga,” Villaluna said.

“From the current 56 flights servicing the City of Davao, PAL is happy to announce that throughout December 2017, we shall be mounting an additional 10 flights to and from Davao, boosting not just tourism but also the economic sector of entire region of Mindanao. These flights help address passenger travel and cargo carriage needs,” she added.

Cebu Pacific Air (CEB), for its part, says there is no limit to cargo shipments on its domestic flights.

“We recognize the importance of air freight as a critical part of logistics to optimize the supply chain. Hence, at Cebu Pacific, we try to move cargo as expediently as possible, keeping in mind that these goods are time-critical or of high importance. Our expansive domestic route network also gives shippers more options and flexibility in moving their goods,” said Alex Reyes, Vice President for Cargo at Cebu Pacific.

CEB has multiple flights between Manila and CGY, Misamis Oriental—the gateway to Cagayan de Oro City and Northern Mindanao, flying up to 59 times weekly, from early morning to late in the evening with the most extensive network in and out of CGY station with direct connections to Manila, Iloilo, Bacolod, Caticlan, Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Davao and Zamboanga; as well as to and from Cebu with a total of 28 flights a week.

In Mindanao, Cebu Pacific has hubs in Cagayan de Oro and Davao, allowing for greater capacity to carry cargo to and from the region. In and out of its Davao hub, CEB flies 79 times a week to and from Manila; and up to 24 times weekly to and from Cebu.

Reyes added that CEB has even greater cargo capacity in and out of the Davao hub, as the carrier utilizes wide-body Airbus A330 aircraft for the Manila-Davao route.

With the shift in the center of the country’s virtual capital to Davao City, and the rise of Cagayan de Oro as the Philippines’ 4th metropolitan center by 2022, there’s no way to go but up for the air freight industry in Mindanao.