by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Air Juan, the country’s first commercial operator of seaplanes and landplanes, is aggressively expanding its routes in the country as the feeder service is experiencing robust demand for fast and convenient mode of transport for short distances.
Tina Di Cicco, Chief Marketing Officer of Air Juan, told Business Bulletin in an interview that initially Air Juan is looking at expanding to areas in north and south of Luzon that is only within the 30 minutes to an hour radius.
“We are expanding our routes in Luzon and maximizing the use of our capacity,” said Di Cicco, who once worked with Lufthansa and Vivo Macau before she developed the routes for Air Juan.
At present, the boutique airline is operating a fleet of 14 CESSNA aircraft including four seaplanes, two landplanes, three helicopters and some jets. It operates in three hubs – Manila, Cebu, and Puerto Princesa. It is using a temporary hangar in NAIA and operates a hangar in Rio Tuba in Palawan and in Mactan, but it is building a new a new hangar in Cebu.
From Manila, the nine-seater Air Juan flies to Puerto Galera daily and twice on weekends using its seaplanes directly to a place known as Sandbar. It is a 30-minute flying time from its floating dock located at the back of the Philippine International Convention Center. Air Juan also flies to Subic.
It also flies to Boracay ferrying delegates for the APEC meetings that started in 2015 where its seaplanes land close to resorts in the island paradise using its modern dock.
Air Juan flies daily to Boracay, Busuanga, Puerto Galera (twice on Friday and Sunday), Subic and Balesin. It also flies to Mamburao and Marinduque twice weekly.
“For 2017, we are trying to build our networks for south and north of Manila both for leisure and business travelers,” said Di Cicco. “We target to serve as many unchartered destinations those where big airlines won’t fly because it has no run or where the runway is short.”
Di Cicco said the expansion in routes is driven by market demand and economics. She noted the six million tourist arrivals in 2016 and the 6.5 million projection this year. There were also 12 million domestic tourists in the first half of last year alone.
Air Juan, which is a play of Air Force One, is actually coined in reference to every Filipino, as an airline to all Filipinos because it provides access to unchartered destinations where the big airlines cannot serve.
“We are so optimistic on the market as the pressure for infrastructure development builds up,” Di Cicco added. There is also the whole tourism ecosystem working in the country.
Aside from its seaplanes, Air Juan also flies regular flights for its landplanes from Puerto Princesa to Coron and Cuyo islands of Palawan thrice weekly. From Coron, it connects travelers to Boracay twice weekly, earning Air Juan the reputation of having connected two of the world’s best destinations Coron and Boracay. It also flies Boracay-Cuyo every Wednesday. The Cebu hub is mostly chartered flights to anywhere in the region.
“We are still in the early stage but we are encouraged by market demand and the appreciation of the discerning travelers,” she said.
Using the seaplanes has many advantages. First there is no need to queue for long at the airport terminal. There is no noise pollution. The nine-seater brand new CESSNA planes provide a lot of legroom and good views with its big windows. “It is hassle and stress-free. Your vacation starts the moment you board the plane.”
The decision to fly to Cuyo island was borne out of its vision to serve areas in the country where there is no easy access. Cuyo can be reached from Puerto Princesa by 16- to 18-hour boat ride depending on the weather. The fare is less than R5,000 one way for less than an hour travel.
“Cuyo is like the Pangea of Palawan where it seems everyone originates from Cuyo,” noted Di Cicco. Since there is not much sources of livelihood in the island, most Cuyonen go out of the island to work in Palawan or abroad. This is the reason most of its passengers for this route are mostly locals unlike its Coron-Boracay, which largely serves foreign tourists.
Most Cuyonens want to come home to their roots but are often prevented because of the lack of access to the island. “With Air Juan, we are connecting families,” said Cicco.
“The future looks bright because there is demand, the appetite for travel is there with strong support from the government for a service like us,” she added. “We look forward to connect the islands with a seamless service.”