AAX all set to fly to US

PETALING JAYA: AirAsia X Bhd (AAX) is all set to ply routes to the United States, following the approval it just got from the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). London may be next, insiders say.

AAX, the long-haul, low-cost carrier, recently reinstated flights to Auckland and wants to get back to flying to London after a five-year hiatus.

For the US, the airline has been talking about flying to Honolulu in Hawaii the past year, but with the approval from the FAA it obtained recently, it can fly scheduled flights to any city in the US.

Other cities that could be on its radar include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and even New York. AAX will have to deploy long-range aircraft such as the B777 or A350 for these routes.

AAX in a statement yesterday said that it was the first Asian low-cost carrier to secure approval to operate scheduled passenger flights to the US.

Group chief executive officer (CEO) Datuk Kamarudin Meranun said this was a major milestone for AAX.

“Our expansion up until now has concentrated on Asia, Australasia and the Middle East, and we are excited about our first foray into an entirely new market as we look beyond Asia Pacific.

“I am confident travellers will respond well to our award-winning service and the kind of connectivity we can offer with our Fly-Thru product.

“As part of our expansion plans, we are also looking to resume our very popular London route, and are working towards securing the necessary approvals.

Meranun added: “None of this would be possible, especially without group chief operating officer Anaz Ahmad Tajuddin, who sadly passed away two weeks ago.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today if he had not laid the foundations. This is for you, Anaz.”

AAX CEO Benyamin Ismail said AAX would use the A330 aircraft with one stop in Kansai airport in Osaka for now.

“ We may even include Nagoya as a stop later,” he said when contacted yesterday.

He declined to elaborate, but market talk has it that AAX may launch Honolulu as early as late February to early March to catch the summer crowd, and is hoping to capture the Japanese crowd into Hawaii.

Talk is that it will begin flying in either June or July this year, about five months after launching ticket sales.

It is unclear what pricing AAX will offer for the Honolulu route.

Full-service carriers offer anything from RM3,800 to RM5,000 for a return flight to the US.

“There are many carriers flying out of Asia to the US, so the fare pricing has to be attractive. Competition is not just from the Asian carriers but also Middle-Eastern carriers,” said Maybank Investment Bank Research senior analyst Mohshin Aziz.

Flight time from KL to Kansai is about seven hours, and onward from there about 8.5 hours to Honolulu.

“Malaysia has fifth freedom flights with Japan, so AAX can pick passengers from Kansai,” said Mohshin.

He added that if AAX wants to fly beyond Hawaii, it needs to have longer-range aircraft, preferably the B777 or A350, but the latter is not available for now. AAX has ordered the A350 but delivery is only expected in 2019.

As far as London is concerned, the plan is to return to Gatwick – the United Kingdom’s second-largest airport – as it is said to have applied for 10 slots to fly into the airport in the last quarter of this year.

But those in the know said the airline was still reviewing its decision, as fares on that route offered by premium carriers were very low.

If AAX wants to ply that route, then it has to ensure the fares offered are lower. Further, making money on that route will remain a challenge, said a market player.

AAX pulled out of that route in 2012 due to stiff competition and the route was a losing concern.

Source : The Star Online

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