Flying Elsewhere to Nowhere

The Philippines Air Asia that can't fly domestic
November 2, 2011

AirAsia Philippines CEO Marianne Hontiveros (third from left) stands in front of the brand new Airbus A320 after it arrived at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, Pampanga, on August 15, 2011. Photo Courtesy of AirAsia Philippines

Asia's biggest low cost carrier AirAsia may have arrived and call the Philippines its home, but until it gets regulatory approval to fly domestic flights, its dream of challenging the dominance of Cebu Pacific remains to be but a dream.

And from the way things are going, its hurdle of being called a truly Philippine-based carrier remains in limbo as it wrestle objections from a truly Philippine-based airlines.

“Hopefully we can start operations by December, but it would be great if all the relevant authorities can give us approval to operate by November 1,”  says Zaman Ahmad, AirAsia customer experience and technology officer.

Air Asia Philippines operation in the country has been delayed thrice already at it follows the footsteps of Tiger Airways desire to make the country its home and fly local but suffered spate of rejections from belligerent residents, Philippine Airlines,Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines and Zest Air.

The airline maintains that it is Filipino. AirAsia Philippines is 60% owned by Marianne Hontiveros, Antonio Cojuangco Jr. and Michael Romero, while the rest is owned by AirAsia Berhad, controlled by Malaysian mogul Tony Fernandez, through its wholly-owned subsidiary AirAsia International Inc.  

AirAsia Philippines’ first Airbus 320 aircraft, has been languishing at  Clark International Airport in Pampanga since August 15 together with another Airbus aircraft of Tiger Airways-Seair alliance. Another aircraft is expected to join Air Asia Philippines on November 8 sans revenue and the heat is already being felt by the million dollars in loses even before commercial operations have begun. Yet, there are still plans for expansion.

“Our plan is to bring 4 new airbus aircraft by 2012” says Marianne Hontiveros, AirAsia Phils. President.

The plan was to use the first aircraft to fly to Singapore, Macau, and Hong Kong, but because of want of regulatory approval from those countries the airline was forced to delay its inaugural flights. The second Airbus is expected to ply the routes to Bangkok, and Incheon, but Kalibo and Puerto Princesa may have to wait longer or never.  

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has so far recommended giving flight entitlements to AirAsia Philippines and Seair to fly to several points in Malaysia.  

Last Thursday, the CAB recommended that AirAsia Philippines can mount Clark-Kuala Lumpur flights from the 1,260-weekly seat entitlements assigned to it. Meanwhile,Seair's application for a total of 5,400 weekly seat entitlements to Malaysia was also approved by the CAB.

The CAB recommended Seair be given 2,520 seats per week to mount flights between Clark and Kuala Lumpur; 1,260-weekly seats to be utilized for flights between Clark and Kota Kinabalu; 540 seats per week to Kuching; another 540 seats to Penang; and the same number of seats to Langkawi.

 “We're targeting to fly about a million passengers out of AirAsia Philippines in the first year both from domestic and international operations,” Ahmad said.

With only one destination for Air Asia, that target may have to wait further too.

But Hontiveros is optimistic about the airline's setback as it strive hard to be disassociated with Malaysia. AirAsia is known primarily as a Malaysian brand, although it has local units in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

The Airline is looking to change its image from a “born in Malaysia” brand to “ASEAN’s airline” as it expands to other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-countries. 

“AirAsia is taking the bold step of ridding ourselves of the brand that Air Asia is Malaysian. We want to become an ASEAN entity,” Ahmad said.

To further its plans, the airline this year opened an AirAsia ASEAN office in Jakarta, where the ASEAN Secretariat is based. ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“We’re pushing for ‘One ASEAN.’ It would be great as a company we have resources in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines and other ASEAN countries, and we can move resources around, and not be restricted by the different aviation authorities… Today that’s not possible, but in the future that’s what we want,” Ahmad said.- with reports from ABS-CBN

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