AirAsia eyes Clark as long-haul hub

MANILA, Philippines – Low cost carrier AirAsia Malaysia Berhad is looking at transforming Clark International Airport in Pampanga as its hub for long haul operations after its local unit – AirAsia Inc. Philippines — transferred to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

This developed as the rebranded AirAsia Zest — a strategic alliance between AirAsia Philippines and Zest Airways Inc. of Ambassador Alfredo Yao — is scheduled to be launched on Oct. 26.

AirAsia Zest chairman Michael Romero said AirAsia X is being convinced to operate out of the former US military naval base in Pampanga.

“For now our plan is to put the AirAsia X which is the long haul. But that would take about a year or two. We are trying to convince AirAsia X to locate in Clark,” Romero said.

AirAsia X was established in 2007 to provide high-frequency and point-to-point networks to the long-haul business. AirAsia X’s cost efficiencies are derived from maintaining a simple aircraft fleet and a route network based on low-cost airports, without complex code-sharing and other legacy overheads that weigh down traditional airlines without compromising on safety.

According to Romero, the plan to set up a long-haul hub for AirAsia X came about after Emirates and Qatar Airways decided to start long haul operations at Clark International Airport for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“Clark is being converted into long haul with the entry of Emirates and Qatar Airways,” he said.

Romero, who is vice chairman of AirAsia Philippines, pointed out that AirAsia Zest would pool traffic from Manila from short-haul flights and transfer them to Clark for AirAsia X that could fly to Australia, Europe, and even the US.

Romero said existing shareholders of AirAsia Philippines and Zest Air are infusing close to $100 million to bankroll the operations as well as the refleeting program of the combined airline.

“The whole group is pumping in $100 million. Right now we have 13 aircraft and we will go to 16 planes by the end of the year,” he said.

Yao’s ZestAir entered into a strategic alliance agreement with AirAsia Philippines last March 11. Under the agreement, AirAsia Philippines would acquire an 85 percent economic interest and 49 percent voting rights in ZestAir as well as a 100 percent interest in Yao’s Asiawide Airways Inc.

The transaction was consummated last May 10, wherein Yao’s ZestAir got $16 million as well as 13 percent interest in AirAsia Philippines

After the transaction, AirAsia Berhad of Malaysia now owns 40 percent of AirAsia Philippines while Filipino investors led by Romero, Yao, Marianne Hontiveros and Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco Jr. control 60 percent.