Malaysia budget carrier unveils Tokyo route

by Kazuaki Nagata

Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd., Asia’s biggest budget airline, announced Tuesday in Tokyo that its long-haul affiliate, AirAsia X, will launch a route between Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo’s Haneda airport in December.

A one-way ticket will cost ¥5,000 during the inauguration campaign for reservations made between Sept. 23 and Oct. 31, the firm said.

The flights start Dec. 9.

AirAsia X will operate three flights a week, becoming the first low-cost overseas carrier to serve Haneda, which will expand operations for international flights in late October.

“We’ve been planning our entry of service into the Japanese market for well over two years,” Azran Osman-Rani, AirAsia X CEO, said during a news conference in Tokyo.

Following the campaign, standard one-way tickets for the Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur route are expected to cost around ¥10,000 to ¥25,000, depending on the season and timing of the booking.

Osman-Rani said his firm is considering further expanding operations at other airports in Japan.

“I’ve always said Japan is the market that we see we could operate at least three different airports,” he said, adding there are many attractive cities like Fukuoka, Osaka and Sapporo.

He would like to first see how AirAsia X will be received by Japanese consumers with the launch in Tokyo.

“I think Tokyo is probably the most important market to be in, and if we are popular and well received by Japan and the brand grows here, it will give us sort of confidence to then expand to these other cities,” he said.

AirAsia X, which has nine hub airports overseas, expects about 75 percent of customers on flights from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo to be Malaysians, Singaporeans and other Southeast Asians in the initial stage, but the airline hopes Japanese will make up half the passengers in the future.

The move by AirAsia X reflects the growing presence of low-cost carriers in Japan in recent years.

Kansai International Airport has five budget overseas carriers operating regular flights.

Also, All Nippon Airways Co. recently announced it plans to launch a low-cost carrier with a different brand name in the second half of fiscal 2011. It will be based at Kansai International.

Asked if AirAsia X is ready to compete with ANA’s budget carrier, Osman-Rani said he doesn’t think it will be a rival to AirAsia X, noting ANA will probably focus on short to midrange flights that probably exclude flights to Malaysia.

While many budget carriers focus on short to midrange flights, AirAsia also provides long-distance flights as well with AirAsia X, including London and Seoul.

Osman-Rani stressed that many Malaysians are thrilled with the launch of AirAsia X flights to Tokyo.

“We’ve been completely flooded with all kinds of feedback and interest from many Malaysians because many Malaysians, especially young Malaysians, really enjoy and follow Japanese culture,” he said. “For many Malaysians this is the first time that they will be able to afford a trip to Japan.”