CLARK, August 15, 2011 (AFP) â€“ Asian budget carrier AirAsia launched a new affiliate in the Philippines on Monday, promising to undercut its rivals on regional and domestic routes.
To minimise costs and avoid Manilaâ€™s crowded terminals, AirAsia Philippines will fly out of a former US airbase that has been turned into an industrial zone in Clark about 90 minutesâ€™ drive north of the countryâ€™s capital.
â€œWe will be substantially cheaper (than our competitors),â€ AirAsia Philippines chief executive officer Marianne Hontiveros said at the launch in Clark where she oversaw the arrival of the airlineâ€™s first Airbus A320.
Although the launch ceremony was held on Monday, she said the airline was not expected to start commercial operations until October when it received its final flight certification from the government.
Hontiveros said AirAsia Philippinesâ€™ first routes would be between Clark and Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Bangkok, with its fleet expected to expand to four Airbus A320s by June next year.
She said the carrier would then branch out to the rest of Asia, while also looking to fly domestic routes in the Philippines.
Hontiveros said there were also plans to make Clark a hub for the entire AirAsia networkâ€™s routes to and from the United States.
Like the rest of Asia, the Philippines has seen a boom in low-cost air travel in recent years with home-grown budget carrier Cebu Pacific rising to overtake Philippine Airlines as the nationâ€™s dominant airline.
But Hontiveros said AirAsiaâ€™s reputation should ensure the local affiliate succeeded amid the rising competition.
â€œWeâ€™re banking on the very strong brand of AirAsia. We might be low-cost but we are not cheap (in quality)… we plan to be a substantial player,â€ she said.
Philippine investors including Antonio Cojuangco, a cousin of President Benigno Aquino, have a 60-percent share in AirAsia Philippines, with the Malaysian parent company led by Tony Fernandes holding the other 40 percent.
AirAsia has similar affiliates in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, with another to start in Japan, which are independent companies but work together as one network.
AirAsia already has routes from Clark to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu daily. Hontiveros said the parent firm would continue with its flights even after AirAsia Philippines started. â–