Philippines’ AirAsia finally takes off

KD Suarez
With the promise of revolutionizing air travel for Filipinos, Air Asia Philippines, the newest entrant in the Philippine aviation market, finally took to the skies on Wednesday

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE, Pampanga – With the promise of revolutionizing air travel for Filipinos, AirAsia Philippines, the newest entrant in the Philippine aviation market, finally took to the skies on Wednesday, March 28.

With no less than AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes leading the send-off party, the first AirAsia Philippines flight took off from Clark’s Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) for Kalibo at 7 am.

This was followed by the first-ever flight from Clark to Davao, which departed at a little past 10 am and carried members of the press and government officials, led by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Clark International Airport Corp. chief Victor Jose Luciano.

“We

READY TO FLY. AirAsia Philippines Flight PQ7001, bound for Kalibo, at the tarmac of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, minutes before its inaugural flight, March 28, 2012. Photo by KD Suarez

are here to revolutionize domestic and international air travel… our brand of air travel will be characterized by transparency, efficiency and high value service,” said AirAsia CEO Marianne Hontiveros.

“Philippines’ Air Asia maiden flights… will make air travel for Northern and Central Luzon passengers more convenient and comfortable. They can even be spared from the traffic of EDSA and the long queues of [Ninoy Aquino International Airport],” she said.

The new airline, the 6th carrier currently flying as a local carrier, promises it will be different from other low-cost-carriers in terms of service and travel experience.

Hontiveros cited as example how AirAsia Philippines is the only domestic carrier that offers the all-in-fare promo concept. She candidly said that — unlike current promo fares of other airlines that only involve a few seats on a flight and tend to surprise ticket buyers with additional fees and surcharges — AirAsia Philippines will only quote the total ticket cost “all the time.”

Recently, AirAsia tried to beat Cebu Pacific’s previously famous “Piso fares” (P1) by offering “zero-fares.” After passengers complained that the total fare actually includes add-on fees, Hontiveros said they have made it a policy to quote only the all-in-fare from P275, which covers fuel surcharge, processing fee and government mandated fees such as aviation security fee and VAT.

Long wait

AirAsia Philippines is a 60-40 joint venture between a group of Filipino businessmen – Tonyboy Cojuangco, Michael Romero, and Hontiveros – and AirAsia International Ltd., led by Fernandes.

Fernandes met with President Aquino, the cousin of Cojuangco, a few months after the 2010 elections. Fernandes said he was taken by President Aquino’s sincerity and goal to level the playing field. He was gung-ho to add Philippines in the growing Asian network of his budget airline in the region. 

On Wednesday, March 28, he said making AirAsia Philippines come true is a testament to their confidence in the country.

“We are here because we are confident of its growth. With our pioneering flights and with the options we offer, millions of Southeast Asians will finally be able to easily access the Philippines from various parts of the ASEAN region,” he said.

The venture was announced in December 2010, formally launched last March 2011, and was supposed to start flying in December 2011.

A brand new Airbus A320 straigth from Airbus’s headquarters in France arrived in Clark in August 2011. However, it stayed mostly on the ground for almost 6 months due to the long wait for government-issued certificate that allows them to start operating.

The 2nd Airbus A320 arrived not long after, but both just sat unused in Clark as the airline executives waited for the government permits.

The long wait was largely due to being the first airline in the Philippines to pass through the new requirements instituted in 2008 after Philippine aviation was downgraded from Category 1 to Category 2 by the United States Federal Aviation Administration. 

Nonetheless, Fernandes said he and the AirAsia executives have been patient–and want to be rewarded for it.

Excitement

Fernandes’ excitement for the launch was evident in his tweets the day before.

“This airline is going to be big,” the Malaysian businessman tweeted on his account, @tonyfernandes.

“Arrived in Philippines. Very cool to see airasia (sic) Philippines on the fids [Flight Information Display System] screen. Our first flights tomorrow,” he tweeted upon arrival in Clark, the airline’s hub, on Tuesday.

SEND OFF. AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes waves Philippine flags infront of an AirAsia Philippines aircraft scheduled to fly to Kalibo, Aklan, at the tarmac of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, March 28, 2012. Photo by KD Suarez.

Fernandes added that the presence of AirAsia in the Philippines is another proof of their company’s belief in ASEAN, saying that the country is the “last piece” of the regional jigsaw puzzle.

He said the launch now completes the regional network, with the Philippines being the easternmost and “most important” part, being it closest to the East Asian market where more than a billion potential customers live.

The businessman also emphasized that the country is ready to “explode” and present its offerings to the world.

The low-cost carrier, which had an initial investment of P468 million, currently has 2 Airbus A320 aircraft, and will initially operate flights from Clark to Davao and Kalibo. Flights between Clark and Puerto Princesa will commence next month, to be followed by other domestic destinations. Two more aircraft will arrive this year, according to the airline.

The new airline is the 6th Philippine-based commercial airline at present, and will be competing head-to-head with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, AirPhil Express, ZestAir, and SeaAir.

Prior to this, the original, Malaysia-based AirAsia has been flying to and from Clark to Kuala Lumpur.

From www.airasia.com

Connectivity

The new airline touted its connectivity to the AirAsia network, which includes companies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan, with Fernandes boasting he could travel to 4 countries in one day.

Transpotation Secretary Roxas, speaking in behalf of President Benigno Aquino III, said that the launch really is about the start of interconnectivity among the different islands of the country and to the rest of Southeast Asia, which will boost trade and tourism.

Also present at the launch were top AirAsia executives from the Philippines and around the region, and the heads of Clark, Davao, and Manila airports.

The event also saw the signing of a “sister airport” agreement between the DMIA and Davao’s Francisco Bangoy International Airport.

The agreement aims to promote the use of the two international gateways as alternative airports to the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, and to boost the economy and tourism in the 2 cities. – Rappler.com