Passenger traffic at Cebu Pacific has inched closer to its pre-pandemic high due to the resurgence of travel demand to mostly local destinations, the Gokongwei-owned budget airline said.

Based on preliminary data, Cebu Pacific said it likely was able to hover near its pre-pandemic level at 22 million passengers last year as it benefited from the renewed interest to travel both here and abroad.

Cebu Pacific president and chief commercial officer Alexander Lao said the airline should record its pandemic high in 2023 based on the trajectory between January and September and the travel spike during the holidays.

'We are still finalizing our 2023 figures. However, what I can share is that our passenger traffic from January to September last year is heading toward that direction,' Lao told The STAR.

'We were able to fly 15.5 million passengers at that time. This period doesn't include the holiday seasons yet when traveling is at its peak, particularly Undas and Christmas,' he said.

Initial data from Cebu Pacific also showed that most of its domestic passengers headed to tourist hotbeds Caticlan, Cebu and Davao from Manila.

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific observed that international guests are going mostly to Asian routes, such as Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, indicating that Filipinos are starting to fly abroad again.

Last year, Cebu Pacific had planned a return to its pre-pandemic high of 22.8 million, but supply problens made it challenging for the airline to achieve that objective.

Cebu Pacific dealt with supply issues with aviation manufacturer Pratt and Whitney that forced it to deactivate a number of its Airbus aircraft. Further, the problem remains unsolved as Cebu Pacific is scheduled to ground 20 of its 92 jets by the end of 2024.

In spite of this, Cebu Pacific is confident it can overcome the supply disruptions this year with fresh solutions to bridge the fleet gap. For one, the airline is renting two aircraft from Bulgaria Air until April to support flights to Cebu and Davao.

This year, Cebu Pacific has allocated P50 billion for capital expenditures primarily to finance the acquisition of new aircraft and fuel the expansion needed to serve growing demand.

The low-cost carrier will also place a firm order to either Airbus or Boeing for the purchase of as many as 150 aircraft that could cost up to $18 billion based on list prices.

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