AirAsia Zest to lease new planes by 2015

Budget airline AirAsia Zest, which was recently renamed from Zest Airways, is aiming to grow its fleet by 50 percent in two years as it seeks to tap new destinations in the country and overseas, an official said on Friday.

AirAsia Zest director Joy Caneba said in an interview that discussions were being held to acquire via lease deals as many as seven mid-range Airbus A320s through 2015, to end that period with 21 planes.

The expansions comes amid commitments of support from the AirAsia Group of Malaysian tycoon Tony Fernandes, which earlier said it would infuse about $100 million into the budget carrier established by juice magnate Alfredo Yao in 2008.

The move would also increase Air Asia Zest’s market share, currently at about 10 percent of domestic flights, with the lion’s share going to Cebu Pacific, PAL Express and Philippine Airlines.

A longer-term plan, beyond five years, could involve mounting flights to long-haul destinations in Europe or the United States, Caneba said.

“With the rebranding, we have been aligning the business,” Caneba said

More planes will allow the airline to serve new routes in North Asia like Japan and South Korea, as well as parts of China, she said. For domestic flights, the carrier was set to announce three new routes out of Cebu, namely, Davao, Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro.

Prior to rebranding, AirAsia came into Zest Air as a minority investor, given the latter’s attractive slots at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. AirAsia’s own Philippine unit said it would temporarily stop flights out of Clark International Airport to allow the group to focus on Manila.