Saturday, December 12, 2009

Air Asia Eyes The US Market

08 December 2009

NEW YORK- Malaysia and Asia's best-known low-cost carrier, Air Asia, has set its sights on the United States market.

Aviation experts here say that Air Asia could easily fill the vacuum left by the national carrier, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), which recently discontinued flights to the east coast and closed its office in the Big Apple.

MAS however, still maintains its operations on the west coast, with flights to Los Angeles.

Datuk Tony Fernandes, Air Asia's chief executive, told Bernama in an interview in New York recently - he was a member of the entourage accompanying the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to the city - that he was "working" towards establishing a regular service to the east coast.

"We are very keen to enter the US market which has good business potential," he disclosed.

He hoped to start flights to an east coast airport, either New York or New Jersey, in 2010.

Ever since MAS stopped its service to the east coast, Malaysia lost an important connectivity with that part of the world.

"There are many foreign national carriers, which despite losses, maintain operations to this part of the world which is an important international service point.

"It is that proverbial pennywise-pound-foolish decision, that is likely to haunt MAS, because by withdrawing it will find it extremely difficult to come back and re-establish its position," said a New York based aviation expert who wished to remain anonymous.

Although Air Asia is a low-cost, "no frills" carrier, its arrival here would provide relief to travellers particularly Malaysians, who endure a great deal of inconvenience flying to back home via a third country.

Tony also discussed plans for the acquisition of new aircraft.

"Over the next 24 months, we will be having 32 aircraft of the A-320 type, most of which is to be used for India and China.We have 120 routes which will be increased.

"Air Asia Express will have six aircraft of the A-330 type, mainly for Sydney, Jeddah, Seoul and cities in India," he explained.

According to Tony, the airline also plans to start services to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

However, things need to be sorted out first, at the government-to-government level.

The New York service will be an extension of Air Asia's service from London's Stansead airport.

Tony described the US market as "very good". "There are many students here.

"I am confident, many Americans will also use Air Asia to visit Asia and Europe. They can also get connectivity to Australia," he said.

Asked whether the smaller seat configuration on Air Asia's aircraft, which is fine for passengers on shorter routes, would be suitable for long-haul flights, he said: "The airline plans to change and improve the seating configuration for the long-haul sectors."

On Air Asia's cargo business, though negligible and not fully tapped yet - it accounts for less than one percent of the airline's business - he said that it would further grow in future.

"We are also preparing for that," he said.

Air Asia's total fleet of aircraft, including Thai AirAsia, AirAsia X and Indonesia AirAsia, comprises 85 aircraft, the majority of which are of the A320-200 type.

The fleet also includes some B737-300, A330-300, A340-300 and A350-900 aircraft.

By Manik Mehta


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