Qatar Airways returns to Cebu

Gulf carrier Qatar Airways is set to resume flights to Cebu, the Philippines' second-largest city, in 2016, according to the Centre for Aviation (CAPA). The airline initially offered service to Cebu in 2003 but suspended the route in 2012.

A Qatar Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Return with modern planes

Qatar Airways plans to re-launch the Doha-Cebu route with the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, transitioning to the Airbus A350 as more are delivered to the airline. The airline cited improved fuel efficiency of these newer aircraft as key to making the route more viable.

"Doha-Cebu was unprofitable with the A330-200 because of the relatively low yields in the Cebu market," stated Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker  (CAPA).

Cebu's growing aviation market

Cebu will become Doha's third long-haul destination after Los Angeles and Dubai. These new routes come amidst rapid growth at Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which saw a 20% increase in international passenger traffic in 2015 (CAPA).

Local carriers Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines are also expanding their presence at Cebu, using it as an alternative hub to the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

The Cebu Pacific Group plans to continue expanding its Cebu hub, where it currently operates more than 20 domestic routes and five regional international routes.

The PAL Group, which currently operates seven domestic routes from Cebu, is evaluating potential international routes from Cebu to supplement its new Los Angeles service and its three existing international routes linking Cebu to North Asia.

Competitive market

Though Cebu's growth presents significant opportunities, CAPA warns that "overcapacity could become a concern, particularly in the international market." 

Currently, 12 foreign airlines serve the airport with multiple connections mostly across Asia.

Additionally, the aviation think tank noted that Cebu's market sensitivity could impact potential yields for carriers like Qatar Airways and Emirates.

It remains unclear if there is sufficient demand from the Philippines’ second-largest city to support two Gulf airlines.