Low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific is turning to the European market for help to cover for the absence of grounded aircraft, signing a damp lease agreement with Bulgaria's flag carrier for two aircraft in 2024.

Cebu Pacific yesterday announced that it signed an agreement with Bulgaria Air for two Airbus A320ceos, both 180-seaters, from January to May next year.

As earlier reported by The STAR, Cebu Pacific will work with Bulgaria Air on a short-term lease, allowing the European airline to station two of its units in Manila.

Cebu Pacific will use the Bulgaria Air jets to operate some of its flights from Manila to Cebu and Davao. The services to be flown by the foreign carrier will be manned by its own pilots and staff.

Cebu Pacific president and chief commercial officer Alexander Lao said the airline is looking for ways to serve the post-pandemic demand for air travel. Cebu Pacific will park at least 20 percent of its fleet in 2024 to make way for the repair of their jet engines.

'We continue to explore various opportunities to supplement the fleet and ensure our operational resilience, and this includes signing a damp lease agreement with Bulgaria Air for five months in 2024,' Lao said.

The airline, owned by the Gokongweis, will expand its fleet to 92 by the end of next year, backed by a P50 billion budget mainly for the acquisition of new aircraft.

At the same time, Cebu Pacific anticipates that 20 jets will be grounded for around eight months in compliance with the recall issued by aviation supplier Pratt and Whitney.

Lao, however said Cebu Pacific would proceed with its expansion plans, amid soaring demand for air travel. For 2024, Cebu Pacific expects its seats to grow by up to eight percent, enabling it to breach its pre-pandemic numbers.

'We expect to increase our fleet to 92 by end-2024. With this, we expect year-on-year growth to be within five percent to eight percent in 2024,' Lao said.

Cebu Pacific picked Bulgaria Air as its damp lease partner given its history of completing similar deals with other operators in the past.

Although rare in the Philippines, airlines turn to damp leasing to strengthen their fleet for certain periods, especially during peak seasons when air travel demand is at the highest.

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