Air Transport World

Asia's low-fare success story: Philippines-based Cebu Pacific Air prospers through turbulent skies under the sure hand of its young CEO. (Profile).(Lance Gokongwei)

The airline business is all about timing: Arriving and departing ontime, being in the right place at the right time and making the right decisions at the right time. That about sums up the view of Cebu Pacific Air CEO Lance Gokongwei, 31, the soft-spoken yet decisive scion of the family that controls the airline.

As head of Cebu Pacific since it commenced flying in 1996, Gokongwei has demonstrated a keen appreciation of timing on more than one occasion. In 1997 the airline was scheduled to launch its first international service to Hong Kong but he sensed darkening clouds on the economic horizon and balked. As a result, the company was not badly caught up in the Asian currency crisis that sent Philippine Airlines into a tailspin, wrecking its ambitious fleet plans, and shut down another startup, Grand International Airways.

Timing again was a factor in 2001 when Gokongwei signed with Pegasus Aviation to lease two 757-200s to launch international flights on Sept. 7. Rather than cancel the deal after 9/11, he surmised that intra-Asia travel would not be affected as much as elsewhere by the terrorist attacks in the US. He was right again, and now international services from the Philippines are a small but important component of the low-fare airline's business, accounting for 25 weekly flights to Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul.

The lion's share of Cebu Pacific's operation, however, is in the Philippine domestic marker, where it enjoys a 32% marker share offering 430 weekly flights with 12 DC-9-30s on the high-traffic routes connecting Manila, Cebu, Davao, Tacloban, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Kalibo, Roxas, Butuan, Clark and Dumaguete. …

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