AirAsia X looks to add two more Japan cities

by Junko Horiuchi

Kyodo News

The chief executive officer of AirAsia X, long-haul low-cost carrier based in a Malaysia, said he hopes to add two Japanese airports to its international service by 2012 after starting flights to Tokyo’s Haneda airport in December.

“As far as other airports in Japan, we remain interested. I have always said Japan is a market where we can operate at three different airports, including Haneda,” Azran Osman-Rani said in an interview Tuesday, adding he would consider airports in Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

“The cities other than Tokyo are not well known so we will not fly immediately, but once when the people of Malaysia know that we are flying to Japan, word gets around and that’s when we can start direct flights there,” the 38-year-old Osman-Rani said. “It will take maybe one or two years to build this awareness for these cities.”

AirAsia X, an affiliate of AirAsia, one of the biggest low-cost carriers in Southeast Asia, announced Tuesday it will launch a direct service between Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Haneda on Dec. 9, with fares 40 to 50 percent lower than those currently offered by other airlines.

AirAsia X hopes that its attractive pricing and high-quality service will allow it to tap a pool of Asian tourists who have never visited Japan and increase demand for overseas flights among Japanese.

Moves are also increasing among regional airports in Japan to attract low-cost carriers since the number of existing flight services has stagnated.

Osman-Rani stressed that his priorities for future expansion are Fukuoka and Osaka.

“I like Nagoya, but in my mind I’m not sure because in Nagoya you are just over one hour from Tokyo. Maybe later when there is a lot of demand. Osaka and Fukuoka are the higher priorities,” he said.

On Ibaraki airport, which AirAsia had once considered serving, Osman-Rani said: “An airport like Ibaraki probably needs to develop more of its short-haul network before it becomes viable for long-haul networks such as ours. The power of Haneda, by contrast, is very strong with a domestic network of dozens and dozens of flights to Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka and many other places.”

AirAsia X hopes to see a load capacity of 75 percent in the first year of service between Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, with an aim of boosting that to 80 percent by the end of the second year. It targets mostly young tourists, some businesspeople and retirees.

“I think Southeast Asia is very unique and the best part of Southeast Asia is you don’t need to choose where to go. You can go to the beach islands for a few days and to the city for shopping, nightlife and also go to adventure destinations. Everywhere is a one-hour flight and very cheap, $10, $20,” he said.