Philippine carrier Cebu Pacific received delivery of its first new ATR 72-600 turboprop plane back in September last year, the first of a total of 16 such planes the airline is expected to receive from manufacturer ATR by 2020. These 16 turboprop aircraft will replace the airline’s existing 72-500 models, of which it currently has eight in its fleet.
Turboprops such as the 72-600 are well catered to island hopping, particularly between airports with shorter runways on which larger aircraft are unable to take off and land. In the past, this has been the case for the Philippines’ Caticlan Airport, to which Cebu Pacific’s first 72-600 (DG 6233, operated by its subsidiary Cebgo) made its maiden voyage on October 15, on which I was travelling. And while the airport recently extended the range of its runway to 1,800 metres in November, enabling it to host aircraft such as Airbus A320, turboprops remain a key part of Cebu Pacific’s domestic expansion plans.
Cebgo’s DG 6233 departure time of 0820 called for an early morning start and after scanning our check-in luggage through security before entering, we checked in as a large group at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport Domestic Terminal 4. As such, check in took slightly longer than would have been the case if I were travelling alone or in a small group, but considering we numbered close to a dozen the process was particularly painless and efficient.
Cebu Pacific’s one-class ATR 72-600 features a slimmer seat design than its predecessor the 72-500, of which it has eight in its fleet. This new seat product enables manufacturer ATR to offer a seat pitch of 30 inches on the standard 70-seat ATR 72-600, an inch more than its predecessor.
However, Cebu Pacific’s 72-600 is not the standard variant – the high-capacity variant operated by Cebgo, the first of its kind developed by ATR, offers a total of 78 seats. This has the result of actually decreasing the effective seat pitch to 28 inches – an inch less than the 72-500s the carrier currently operates – in order to accommodate the additional seats. This short pitch is certainly noticeable, and as a particularly tall person (1.95 metres) I found my knees had to be wedged into the armrest gap either side of the seat in front of me in order to fit.
The lesser pitch on Cebgo’s high-capacity aircraft is unfortunate considering the 72-600’s new seat itself is certainly comfortable and is noticeably thinner. The cushioning is soft despite its slimmer design and remained comfortable throughout the flight. For more average-sized travellers, the seats – while not spacious – are likely to be markedly less restrictive.
While turboprop planes aimed at the low-cost-carrier market are undoubtedly focused primarily on cost and flight efficiency, ATR has nevertheless implemented a number of technological developments in its aircraft aimed at improving the flight experience of passengers. According to the manufacturer, the noise output of its newer aircraft has been reduced by 10 per cent, a development that is certainly noticeable in the cabin.
Takeoff and landing were smooth and surprisingly muted, and the constant high-pitched whine of the engines I’ve come to expect when flying on jet-powered aircraft was noticeably absent.
In-flight snacks are offered aboard the flight, with booking options allowing travellers to pay an additional fee to include a small bite. While food on the short one-hour-five-minute flight can easily be foregone, the early departure time and necessary pre-breakfast departure from the hotel made the on-board food a welcome offering.
I’d opted for a pre-booked hazelnut banana croissant over the tuna capers crossini, which was fresh, flavourful and helped tie me over for the duration of the flight. An alternative (or additional) option would be to request a small packed breakfast from the hotel the night before.
Cabin crew during the flight were polite and fun while also attentive considering the aircraft’s small size. Both Cebu Pacific and Cebgo are clearly aiming for a particularly casual flight experience – this is evident early on from cabin staff’s uniform, which notably entails a brightly coloured polo shirt – and the relaxed vibe felt appropriate for the beach destination to which we were heading.
While ATR has done much to improve the comfort of passengers, space is still an issue. Aside from the seat pitch and width being tight on size, floor to ceiling the cabin is 1.91 metres, which had me hunching over even when standing in the aisle.
That said, the 72-600 does feature notably larger overhead bins – approximately 30 per cent larger than earlier models – designed to enable travellers to carry more luggage onto the aircraft rather than checking it in. This is a welcome feature and certainly helped free up some space within the cabin, especially the much-valued area beneath the seat in front.
Much like takeoff, arrival was smooth despite strong winds, which were visibly whipping up turbulent waves in the sea nearby. Despite that, we stepped off the plane and walked into the arrivals lounge in good time, with immigration and luggage being a relatively speedy affair.
Cebgo’s ATR 72-600 service is an efficient and enjoyable way to hop between the Philippines’ myriad islands. While roominess is still an issue, especially for those of a particularly tall disposition, those of a more average size are likely to find the carrier’s new aircraft comfortable for the hour and five minutes they are in the air.
1 hour 5 minutes
Internet rates for a one-way flight from Manila to Caticlan – with 20kg of luggage, pre-ordered meal – in mid-October start from PHP 3603.68 (US$72.43) (Flight + Bag + Meal)