Chennai: Budget carrier AirAsia India has charted out expansion plans to connect more tier-II and III cities and set a target to commence flights to overseas destinations by January 2019, a top official said. The airliner last week inducted its 16th aircraft and announced the addition of Nagpur and Indore to its list of destinations.
According to AirAsia India, Managing Director and CEO, Amar Abrol, the airliner has planned to commence overseas operation by January 2019 once it has 20 or more planes. “Our strategy is that once we get to 20 planes (operating in domestic operations) we will start flying international. Mostly, it will be to South East Asian countries," he told PTI here.
Stating that 27% of the people who fly with AirAsia were flying for the first time ever, he said, “So, we are opening up Indian skies. And we are getting lot many more Indians to fly for the first time." The plan is to connect more and more tier II and III cities in India, wherever A320 can go and also start flying international after crossing 20 aircraft, he said.
Elaborating, he said, the company would serve those markets which were already connected by the airliner’s group entities—AirAsia Malaysia, AirAsia Indonesia, AirAsia Thailand. “We will be flying mostly to Malaysia, Indonesia and neighbouring SAARC countries as well. Bangladesh, Nepal and so on and so forth," he said. Asked whether there would be any competition within the AirAsia Group itself, as AirAsia Malaysia and AirAsia Thailand operate, he replied in the affirmative saying, it will be healthy competition between the airlines.
“That is not a problem. I think there is enough demand for AirAsia Malaysia to grow and AirAsia India to grow." He said the customer would be deciding the flight to a destination, whether it may belong to AirAsia Malaysia or AirAsia India. “For the customer there will not be any difference. Still, it will be an AirAsia plane, AirAsia service. There will not be any difference. Probably there may be (some difference) in the cabin crew," he said On pricing, he said, “AirAsia Malaysia is an independent entity, AirAsia India is an independent entity. We will price according to what we feel is right. But, ultimately it is the consumers who will decide which flight they want to take."
Referring to the Centre’s ambitious UDAAN scheme which aims to connect under-served cities, Abrol said, the airliner was not participating (in the scheme) because the flights owned by them were Airbus A320s. The government’s ambitious UDAN (Ude Desh Ke Aam Naagrik) scheme, under which fares are capped at Rs2,500 for a one-hour flight. It aims at boosting air connectivity to and from unserved and under-served airports and making flying more affordable.
“UDAAN scheme is typically meant for 10-seater or 15- seater ATRs. We have big planes. Hence we are not participating in Udan Scheme per se," Abrol said. Stating that AirAsia was already connecting metros to non-metros other than Bengaluru-Chennai, Bengaluru-New Delhi, he said, the focus will be on tier II and III cities.
“Our focus has been on tier II and III cities. Because, we believe that is where quite a lot of demand is," he said. The company recently introduced flights in the Bhubaneswar-Chennai route. “We are connecting Chennai to Bhubaneswar and we are not necessarily connecting Chennai to New Delhi, because that is a market which is already served very well", he said.
AirAsia India currently flies to 17 destinations with its hubs in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Kolkata. AirAsia India is a joint venture between Tata Sons Limited and AirAsia, with AirAsia Investment Limited. AirAsia India commenced operations in June 2014 and currently flies to several cities in the domestic market.