MANILA, OCTOBER 4, 2003  (STAR) Scarred by the SARS crisis earlier this year, Philippine Airlines is mounting a spirited comeback that will see it add more destinations, enhance products and possibly acquire more aircraft within the next six months.

At the mid-point of its current fiscal year that started April 1, the national carrier can look back at a semester of ill fortune that wiped out much of the gains it made the previous year. But, with travelers taking to the skies again, it is forging ahead with modest but auspicious plans.

Toting a US$5.5 million profit from its last fiscal year, PAL began the current period with high hopes that this would be a breakout year for the carrier, which has operated successfully under a government-supervised rehabilitation program since 1999.

But the flare-up of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in mid-March – which came at the start of the Philippines’ peak summer travel season – dashed those hopes. Like all major Asian carriers, PAL lost heavily during the summer as it slashed capacity on many regional routes.

The return of normality to the travel market has put PAL back on track. In August, bookings, load factors and revenue all recorded significant increases, thrusting PAL into the black for the first time in five months.

The airline is now focused on growing its markets and aggressively staking out new ground to mine commercial opportunities. On October 26, PAL will start a long-awaited service to Kuala Lumpur. The four-times-weekly flights, initially planned for May but deferred due to SARS, mark the carrier’s return to the Malaysian capital after five years.

From October 2 to November 27, PAL will operate a charter service to the South Korean city of Taegu. The twice-weekly flights open up a fourth direct route – after PAL’s regular Manila-Seoul, Manila-Busan and Cebu-Seoul services – for the booming Korean tourist traffic to the Philippines.

And in March 2004, the airline will introduce a new service between Manila and Las Vegas. The service, which is routed via Vancouver, aims to tap the potential-rich leisure market, particularly out of Canada, bound for the gaming tables of Las Vegas.

The new services target the high-yield market segments that PAL needs to sustain its recovery. To underpin the effort, it is mulling the acquisition of two more Boeing 747-400 jets before the fiscal year ends next March, which will enlarge the PAL fleet to 31 aircraft.

The new hardware is complemented by ongoing enhancements to the airline’s inflight, cargo and information systems, and its frequent flyer program.

"Your company is not giving up," PAL president Avelino L. Zapanta told employees recently. "Our battle cry is ‘Against All Odds’ and we shall relentlessly pursue our goal of a stronger Philippine Airlines despite the many challenges in our way."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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