Budget airlines open up Asia's skies to masses

March 16, 2011 - 0:0

A decade ago, even some of Asia's wealthier people could face a long bumpy ride on a bus to visit family or take a break on the beach-flying was simply too expensive. Not anymore. The proliferation of low cost airlines across the region, particularly in Southeast Asia, has opened up air travel to the masses.

Malaysia-based AirAsia, which launched in 2001, was one of the first airlines to rip open Asia's skies to the general public. ""Suddenly, people who had never been on planes-people who lived in villages and used to go on a 12-hour bus ride to see relatives-suddenly they were flying,"" says planemaker Airbus's Asia communications director Sean Lee.
If the same thing happens in China, India and Indonesia, with their massive populations, imagine-the potential is huge."" So huge, in fact, that Airbus predicts that a third of all new planes will be sold into the region over the next 20 years -- 8,560 aircraft worth a cool $1.2 trillion. The company has a backlog of over a thousand aircraft waiting to be delivered to the region.
And of those, AirAsia has 175 firm orders for A320s, with a further 50 on option. The airline continues to expand with the opening of three hubs in Kuching in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and Medan in Indonesia.
It is also launching operations in the Philippines later this year. ""For 2011, our plan is to further expand our route network and key routes,"" AirAsia's chief executive Tony Fernandes told AFP. ""We also plan to be more aggressive in penetrating the Indian market and further expansion in China."" Cebu Pacific, the Philippines' already long-established low cost carrier, plans to invest a billion dollars in 21 new Airbus aircraft and hire 2,000 more staff over the next four years to boost its international operations.
Singapore's low cost carrier Tiger Airways, meanwhile, will take delivery of 26 aircraft by the end of March 2011, the company said. India has eight budget airlines, which have gained nearly half of the market share in the country's rapidly growing aviation sector. IndiGo, launched in 2006, is the country's youngest airline but has already become the third largest, flying 8.4 million passengers in 2010, a 16.5 percent share in domestic air traffic.
The airline announced a deal for 180 A320s, the largest number of Airbus planes ever bought in a single order, at the Paris air show this year. IndiGo currently operates only domestic flights but has ambitious targets for 2011, planning to start flying internationally in August after recently getting government clearance.
(Source: kuwaittimes.net)