PAL's long and slow route to Europe

7 Nov 2013 by Alex McWhirter

Philippine Airlines is probably operating Heathrow's longest current non-stop flight.

PAL's new Manila-London service, which started last Monday, takes a whopping 15 hours 30 minutes non-stop to complete the trip using the rostered B777-300ER. Flight time from London back to Manila, because of prevailing winds, is one hour less at 14 hours 30 minutes.

Sector lengths of this magnitude must represent the maximum range of the rostered B777-300ER.

But these excessive flight times puzzled me. From London, Manila is only a few hundred miles further than is Hong Kong. In level flight a plane should be able to cover that short distance in 30 to 45 mins.

So why does PAL's Manila-London flight take almost 2 hours 30 minutes longer than Cathay Pacific's non-stop Hong Kong-London service?

The answer lies in the fact that the Philippine government has, unlike Cathay Pacific, so far been unable to secure overflying rights from the Russian authorities.

Russia holds the key to faster flights between Asia and Europe. But the Russians are fussy about who they allow to overfly. They also demand royalty payments running to thousands of dollars per flight.

Most airlines happily pay the fees because they save on fuel and can offer passengers more competitive flight times.

So what routing does PAL take between Manila and London? Basically, it takes the old "Silk Route" which Western carriers had to use in the Cold War era (when then-Soviet authorities banned almost all overflying by Western carriers).

It means that after leaving Manila, PAL's B777-300ER takes a southerly route passing overhead SE Asia, India, the Middle East and Southern Europe.

Reports in the Philippine media suggest that talks with the Russian authorities could resume soon. If both parties reach an agreement on overflying rights then PAL's schedules will be amended to reflect the significant reduction in flight length.

As previously reported, PAL's two-class B777-300ERs feature 3-4-3 seating in the economy cabin with business class configured 2-3-2 (see

In other news, PAL president Ramon Ang has confirmed that Frankfurt will be the carrier's second European destination after London. Flights are set to get under way in 2014. No exact date or aircraft type has been announced.

Alex McWhirter

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