By Arno Maierbrugger/Gulf Times Correspondent Bangok
Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of Asia’s largest and most successful budget airline AirAsia, suggested at a conference in Bangkok on September 15 that his airline could build “a new Dubai” in Southeast Asia in terms of airline passenger transfer, replicating what Emirates does at its hub in the UAE’s largest city. Fernandes carried on saying that – given the size and passenger numbers AirAsia has reached – such hubs could be set up in Bangkok and in Kuala Lumpur to efficiently connect East and Southeast Asia with the rest of the world.
To that end, Fernandes said he is on the lookout for joint venture partners to jointly invest in airport developments in the region to serve its own burgeoning traffic and to provide the necessary infrastructure ahead of the Open Skies agreement that is on the cards for the Asean Economic Community, the envisaged economic union of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, planned to be established by the end of this year.
Fernandes spoke at the CAPA LCC Airports Congress in Bangkok, a conference organised by Australia-based Center for Asia-Pacific Aviation (CAPA).
AirAsia has long been keen to have its own terminals, but bids in recent years to invest in such facilities in Malaysia and Indonesia received a damper from authorities. By investing into whole airports, this could change, observers believe.
“We’re big enough, and I don’t see why we should not have our own [passenger] terminals,” Fernandes said.
AirAsia has repeatedly complained about the quality of construction of Kuala Lumpur’s new international airport KLIA2 and the allegedly dilapidated state of the older Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) nearby. With Kuala Lumpur being AirAsia’s main aviation hub, the airline’s CEO for the Malaysian unit Aireen Omar complained that the newly constructed KLIA2 is already sinking, with cracks appearing in the taxiway and water forming pools that planes must drive through, resulting in damages to the aircraft. The bad state of runways and operational facilities at LCCT would also accelerate wear and tear of AirAsia’s planes. The airline is now seeking compensation of around $96mn from Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad.
“What the airport actually needs is a permanent solution,” Omar said, but she would not clarify if this was an offer to invest in whatever such a solution could be.
Meanwhile, at the CAPA conference, visitors learned that Bangkok’s old international airport Don Mueang is has become the world’s largest hub for low-cost carriers ahead of Las Vegas, Kuala Lumpur, Barcelona and Jakarta. According to Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, president of Airports of Thailand (AOT), operator of Don Mueang and five other international airports in Thailand, Don Mueang served 22.5mn passengers between January and August this year, already having exceeded its official annual capacity of 18.5mn. Passengers are carried to and from Don Mueang by currently 19 budget airlines, beside AirAsia also Thai AirAsia, Thai AirAsia X, Indonesia AirAsia, Thai Lion Air, Malindo Air, Nok Air, NokScoot, Thai Smile, Orient Thai Airways and some Chinese low-cost airlines. Passenger traffic at the airport surged 50% between January and June this year, AOT statistics show.
Noting that Don Mueang airport still has limited aircraft parking bays, Fernandes said his group would be interested in investing in such facilities and wants to discuss the details with AOT.
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