AirAsia zooming in on two more Asean countries

Petaling Jaya (The Star/ANN) - After yesterday's first flight out of the Philippines and later this year out of Tokyo, AirAsia is now zooming on South Korea and two other Asean countries to set up new operations as it widens its reach to more countries in the Asia-Pacific.

"We have been looking at options in North Asia and are working on adding two more countries in Asean. In North Asia, the next potential is South Korea and we are also closing in on Japan as that is where our next launch will be.

"I will be spending the next three days in Tokyo and there they are building a low-cost air terminal to make travelling really low cost,'' AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes told StarBiz.

"We are also looking at adding two more countries in Asean and we hope to announce that within the next six to eight months. We are at a very advance stage of discussions (with parties in the two Asean countries),'' he added.

However, Fernandes declined to name the two Asean countries, citing confidentiality issues, although the market is saying that it may include Myanmar and Vietnam, where the carrier has tried but failed in its first bid.

The expansion would certainly help AirAsia expand the business from its current home base in Malaysia. For now, it also has operations in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Its tie-up with All Nippon Airlines will see it begin flying from Tokyo before the year-end.

"Asean is a booming market and as we add, our connectivity gets stronger and people can then travel from places such as Kuala Lumpur to Boracay Island onto Singapore and even Perth.

"The potential is huge and most people have not seen the vision that we have,'' Fernandes said.

Fernandes was in the Philippines to send off AirAsia Philippines for is maiden flight from Clark's Diosdado Macapagal International Airport to Kalibo, the gateway to Boracay Island.

AirAsia Philippines is a joint venture between a group of Filipino businessmen, led by Tonyboy Cojuangco, and AirAsia International Ltd, led by Fernandes. It was formally launched in August 2011. The airline got its licence to fly out of Clark on Feb 7.

AirAsia Philippines has two Airbus A320 and will initially operate flights from Clark to Davao and Kalibo. Flights between Clark and Puerto Princesa will commence next month and other destinations will be added later.

AirAsia Philippines is the sixth Philippine-based commercial airline and its competitors are Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, AirPhil Express, ZestAir and SeaAir.

"The Philippines is a fantastic market where the economy is growing. They have said it will be a level playing field for us and this is something we never heard of when a new airline takes off. They also want to build a low-cost air terminal for us and it will be really low cost for passengers and that is music to my years," Fernandes said.

"It is a country with 100 million population, so the potential is massive and the enthusiasm of the people here makes us want to build a franchise second to none.''

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