Airlines are losing money on the UAE-Philippines route and will soon be forced to cut flights, a leading international aviation analyst organisation has warned.
The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said too many carriers had entered the once-lucrative market, with 24 flights per week added in the last quarter of 2014 alone.
Despite huge traffic between the countries – there are about 700,000 Filipinos working in the UAE, the Asian country's fourth largest overseas community – airlines including Dubai's Emirates, Abu Dhabi's Etihad and three Filipino carriers had saturated the market to the point that competition had become too great.
“While there is considerable traffic between the Philippines and UAE, yields are generally low and there are large seasonal fluctuations,” a CAPA report says.
“On a year-round basis the Philippines-UAE is not an easy market to turn a profit on, particularly without any ability to sell flights beyond the UAE.
“But December and January are peak months for the Philippines-UAE market, as Filipinos working overseas typically make their trips back home during the holiday season. February and March will be more challenging months, while April will see another peak for Easter.”
The route became overcrowded during the previous few months, with three Philippine carriers entering the market – low-cost airlines Cebu Pacific and PAL Express and flag carrier Philippine Airlines.
Emirates also launched services to Manila's alternative airport, Clark, on top of its three daily flights to the capital, having added the third frequency at the beginning of 2013.
Etihad also serves Abu Dhabi-Manila with two daily flights.
“Total capacity shot up by over 70 percent practically overnight from about 13,100 to about 22,500 weekly one-way seats,” CAPA says.
Fares between Manila and Dubai or Abu Dhabi have dropped as the three Philippine carriers have struggled to fill new A330s and CAPA said load factors have been sustainable only during peak periods.
Unless ticket sales were boosted during non-peak periods, frequencies would have to be cut.
“Losses for all the carriers are likely if current capacity levels are maintained year-round,” the report says.
Cebu Pacific's launch of the Manila-Dubai service was its first long-haul route, with the daily service launched on October 7.
But according to CAPA, the airline's performance on the route was “disappointing” during the first month, with its average load factor a dismal 36 percent (10,000 seats), despite selling tickets for nine months prior.
The airline also disclosed in its third-quarter results that forward bookings for December-February also were relatively weak, with only about 20 percent of seats sold.
Although CAPA said the route had been performing “much better” since late November, with significantly higher load factors and some flights completely full.
It is now offering cut-back prices of $167 Manila-Dubai one-way.
Flights to the UAE also are part of an ambitious expansion plan by Philippine Airlines.
CAPA says the full impact of the over-supply will not be felt until at least February because PAL Express did not launch its Dubai service until shortly before the peak period.
However, the report says Etihad has been smart not to increase its twice daily flights to Manila since the second flight was added in November 2011.
Manila is the airline's second busiest market after Bangkok but it would only be able to boost capacity by taking flights to Clark.
“Etihad would be smart to give Clark a miss,” the CAPA report says.
“There is risk of large losses as Philippine carriers start to realise it is not a market where new demand can be easily stimulated. Philippine carriers will need to rely on wooing passengers – or labour contractors – away from very competitively priced one-top products.
“But there are not enough of these passengers to go around outside the peak periods. At current capacity levels there will be no winners.”
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.