By Emmie V. Abadilla
Air Juan Aviation, Inc., the country’s only commercial sea plane operator and the largest in Southeast Asia, plans to double its business, as well as its fleet of a dozen aircraft composed of seaplanes, land planes and helicopters in the next five years, announced President John Anthony Gutierrez.
While he declined to disclose how much investment the carrier is putting in, the company has invested close to US$40 million (over P2 billion) for its existing fleet.
“We’ll be spending a lot (on our expansion) but the actual figure’s a secret. It still depends on how well we will do on the current fleet. Of course, we would like to grow bigger.”
The Filipino-owned airline, which had been operating for the past five years, just opened its Cebu hub recently. Its target is to service nine island destinations from Mactan or from South Road Properties (SRP) and is banking on the competitive advantage of its seaplane service to cut travel time by half.
To date, its fleet is composed of six of “the most sophisticated single-engine commuters in the market, efficient and fast” – Cessna Grand Caravans, of which four are in amphibious configuration, meaning they can land in both land and water.
A couple are configured for land – bush planes which don’t need a paved runway to land. “Airstrips will do, like grass and dirt. We can land in areas which don’t have the infrastructure to host big aircraft. With air strips, we’re good to go.”
For chartered flights, which accounts for 20 percent of its business, Air Juan has 3 helicopters, two twin-engines (worth $6 million each) and one-single engine.
In terms of passengers, the company carries about 1,500 per month and more during the tourism peak season between November to May.
The company, which is a Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP)-licensed scheduled airline and a Department of Tourism (DOT)-accredited Tourist Air Transport provider, can fly to places with short runways, or in most cases, no runways at all.
Unlike most commercial carriers, Air Juan specializes in inter-island travel, flying directly between destinations without passing through the major hubs, avoiding the waste of time in crowded airports.
“When we say we fly direct, it’s in the literal sense,” he pointed out. “Our seaplanes land directly in front of the beachfront resorts.”
Their scheduled flights cover 22 popular routes. But with seaplanes and helicopters at its disposal, the company can fly anywhere in the country.
At present, the most profitable route for Air Juan’s seaplanes is Puerto Galera, which requires 3-4 hours’ drive from Manila, 1.5 hours ferry to Batangas and one hour of tricycle ride. A seaplane transports time-sensitive guests to the destination in half an hour for R4,000-R5,000 one-way and has no competition because no airline services the route.
Significantly, the bulk, or 70 percent of the carrier’s clientele, is foreign.
“They understand time sensitivity,” noted Paolo Misa, Marketing Head. “We now fly to Puerto Galera 9 times a week, twice on Fridays and Sundays. Our top clients are not just divers but foreign business owners who operate resorts, bars and restaurants in the area who need to connect to Manila.”
Another profitable seaplane route is Cuyo Island, Palawan, which normally requires 8 hours of travel.