DUBAI — Malaysia’s AirAsia X, one of the few budget airlines flying inter-continental routes, has chosen to make Abu Dhabi its regional hub for connecting flights to possible destinations in Europe, Africa and central Asia.
AirAsia X ruled out Dubai, Sharjah and other cities in the Gulf in selecting the UAE capital as an overseas hub, said Tony Fernandes, Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Bhd., the regional low-cost carrier that owns a stake in AirAsia X. Both airlines are headquartered in Kuala Lumpur.
“We’re now looking at flying to Abu Dhabi. That will be our first point in the Middle East,” Fernandes told Khaleej Times in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “If things work out well, hopefully we could start flying there toward the latter half of next year.”
Executives at Abu Dhabi Airports Company, operator of the city’s international airport, were travelling and could not immediately be reached for comment.
AirAsia X was among the first carriers to adapt the no-frills business model, which typically applies to flights lasting no more than four hours, to longer journeys of eight hours or more. Most of the other pioneers of long-haul budget flights either dropped the idea because they couldn’t make a profit, or, like Hong Kong Oasis Airlines, went bankrupt trying. AirAsia X appears to be an except ion. Founded in 2007, the carrier’s wide-body Airbus A330 and A340 jetliners fly routes to London, Taipei and to cities in China and Australia. To support its expansion plans, AirAsia X announced an aircraft order at the Paris Air Show in June for 10 Airbus A350s, a larger and more fuel-efficient model that is still under development.
Frankfurt and Cairo are among the prospective destinations that AirAsia X would like to serve from Abu Dhabi, Fernandes said. The airline is also considering flying to cities in eastern Africa, possibly Nairobi. At the moment, he complained, “You just can’t get to East Africa from Asia.”
As a hub, Abu Dhabi would be a place for AirAsia X planes to refuel and take on new passengers before flying onward.
In a first step toward this network expansion, AirAsia X plans in October to begin service between Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur. The carrier will start later this month to sell advance tickets for these flights, Fernandes said.
AirAsia is older and bigger than its long-haul affiliate and has become one of the world’s most successful carriers. Fernandes recognises that the UAE is already home to two low-cost airlines — Sharjah-based Air Arabia and Dubai’s flydubai, but he believes that the Gulf region has enough untapped demand to support more no-frills carriers like AirAsia to fly short routes in and around the Middle East.
Indeed, he might want to start one himself. “Given the right partners, yes, we would,” he said. “It would be great to have a low-cost carrier out of Abu Dhabi. I think there’s room, definitely.