The unpainted planes in Philippine skies


While flying in and out of some airports in the Philippines, you may have seen planes, specifically Airbus A320 jets, with no paint nor identity. Have you ever wondered what airline operates these planes?

As of April 2024, there’s definitely one answer to that question: Cebu Pacific.

But why would Cebu Pacific not paint their planes with their colorful yellow livery? Why do these unpainted planes exist in the first place?

Worldwide Aircraft Shortage

As you know, Cebu Pacific has been facing a shortage of aircraft as a result of the grounding of multiple Airbus A320neo family aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G geared turbofan (GTF) engines.

The GTF engines have been problematic, not only for the low-cost airline but for airlines across the globe operating the said engines. In 2023, Pratt & Whitney had to recall 1,200 of the 3,000 GTF engines in operation due to a rare condition in the powder metal used to manufacture certain engine components, which prompted the accelerated inspection of hundreds of PW1100G engines worldwide.

This affected over 40 airlines and lessors globally, leading to the grounding and inspection of Airbus A320neo and Airbus A321neo planes in operation. Among those affected by this fiasco were Filipino air carriers Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines, since both operate Airbus A320neo family aircraft.

Due to the increased and prolonged maintenance visits, airlines were left with no choice but to scale down operations and flight frequencies. On Cebu Pacific’s end, they elected to lease additional Airbus A320ceo aircraft as a stopgap solution while more Airbus A320neo and Airbus A321neo planes are getting delivered.

These additional leased aircraft (well, some of them) are the ones sporting an all-white livery.

The Albino A320s

Since last year, Cebu Pacific welcomed additional Airbus A320ceo and Airbus A320neo planes, which are not part of its current orderbook with Airbus, to augment its fleet.

It was surprising for the airline to add older Airbus A320ceo planes, given that it discarded similar models during the pandemic to switch to an all-NEO fleet. This just emphasized the direness of the aircraft shortage situation it is facing.

But to continue operating its published schedules reliably, Cebu Pacific had to bring in more planes as an interim solution while waiting for newer Airbus planes to be delivered. This paved the way for the entry of four Airbus A320ceo jets: RP-C4160, RP-C4156, RP-C4268, and RP-C4330.

The planes, which average around 13.7 years of age, arrived in Manila sporting an all-white paint job, barring one, RP-C4330. This went on for a while before Cebu Pacific applied special “let’s fly every Juan” decals to RP-C4160 and RP-C4156.

This leaves RP-C4268 as the sole Airbus A320 without a Cebu Pacific identity.

And if you’ve stayed around for a while, you’d know that Cebu Pacific damp-leased two Airbus A320ceo planes from Bulgaria Air. Since these planes are still operated by Bulgaria Air on behalf of Cebu Pacific, the two A320s (LZ-FBD and LZ-FBK) have retained their all-white paint.

Reasons for Retaining the White Paint

While we do not know the official reason for retaining the white paint on these jets, we actually have various theories that are not far-fetched and have been true for other airlines as well.

Because of the aircraft shortage previously mentioned, Cebu Pacific may have decided to make these aircraft’s entry into service immediate. If it were to repaint these planes, it would take one to two weeks in the hangar to do so. The time spent in the hangar could have been spent flying in order to augment the fleet.

Moreover, it could also be because Cebu Pacific sees these planes as temporary. Since these Airbus A320s are expected to exit the fleet once newer planes arrive, repainting them would not be an economical choice.

This is evidenced by the two planes wearing the “let’s fly every Juan” special design, where Cebu Pacific decided to stick temporary decals to the planes instead of spray painting them. Over time, these decals easily fade compared to an actual paint job.

Catch Them While You Can

For those who have spotted the mysterious white Airbus A320 jets at Philippine airports and wondered whose planes they are and why they lack the typical airline livery, the answer lies in Cebu Pacific’s innovative approach to addressing its aircraft shortage.

By quickly integrating these leased planes without repainting them, the airline can swiftly augment its fleet capacity while awaiting the delivery of new aircraft.

While these “albino” A320s may seem unusual, they serve as a practical stopgap measure, enabling Cebu Pacific to maintain its flight schedules and continue serving its passengers during this challenging period.

As the situation evolves, the airline may consider repainting these temporary additions or phasing them out in favor of their brand-new Airbus jets, ensuring a consistent and recognizable brand image across their fleet.

For now, enjoy these all-white planes since they surely won’t be staying around forever.

Dirk Andrei Salcedo Avatar

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