Wednesday, July 29, 2009

AirAsia X fails to get Govt nod for flights to Sydney and Seoul

28 July 2009

SEPANG: AirAsia X’s expansion into Sydney and Seoul will be delayed as it has failed to get the nod from the Malaysian Government to fly to the two cities, forcing the long haul low-cost carrier to formulate a back-up plan to utilise some of the new aircraft that will be delivered later this year.

“We had asked for rights to fly to Sydney and Seoul and the Government decided to defer granting us the approval. They want (AirAsia) to settle (its) dues with Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB),’’ AirAsia X chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani told StarBiz in an interview recently.

“It is a high profile issue and needs a lot of justification but we are AirAsia X and not the ones that owe MAHB money for airport services. Every invoice that we receive is paid within 30 days.”

“It is unfortunate that we are brought into the AirAsia issue but we have written and explained that our accounts are all current,’’ he said.

About RM65mill payment due to MAHB from AirAsia is in dispute.

Azran reiterated that “the dispute is between the two (AirAsia and MAHB) but delaying us from flying into these two destinations will not help travellers who have limited choices and we lose opportunities of the multiplier impact (that) tourism has.”

“We know the Koreans are keen to have us and both the airports – Sydney and Seoul – welcome us,’’ he said.

The delay may be seen as a setback in its expansion plans as with so much capacity coming onstream, AirAsia X has to work fast to secure rights for other markets so that its planes are not grounded for too long.

“We believe the two markets are big enough for more players. MAHB has been trying hard to get Qantas and Jetstar back and here we are waiting to fly to Sydney,’’ Azran added.

Whether it is AirAsia or AirAsia X, there are common shareholders in both companies and allowing AirAsia into newer markets will certainly heat up competition and drive fares down as seen from its flights to Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and London.

“Fundamentally, we do not fly to a destination and take passengers away. We create a new market which even other players can tap into,’’ the AirAsia X chief said.

AirAsia X is set to take delivery of three A330 this year – one each in September, November and December.

It needs to utilise these aircraft and Azran said he was now busy trying to come up with a plan so that the aircraft would be fully utilised since the Sydney and Seoul routes would be delayed.

“We will look at the near term first since we will take delivery of an aircraft in September. We may add capacity on our existing routes to Gold Coast, Hangzhou and Taipei. The new destinations that we are considering include Chengdu. We are hoping to get the time slots soon and the Transport Minisntry has been really helpful in all this,’’ he said.

AirAsia X might fly into either Sharjah or Abu Dhabi sometime this year as part of its plan to venture into the Middle East, he said, adding that Baharin was also on the cards but Teheran would be delayed.

India is a market that AirAsia X wants to look at in 2010 but Amritsar may come earlier if it manages to get the rights, but via Bangkok.

As for the US, the airline liked New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles but formal submissions had not been made, although the process had begun, Azran said, adding that AirAsia X hoped to cover the US by next year.

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