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AirAsia PHL plans to mount flights to Mideast, Australia

BUDGET carrier AirAsia Philippines is studying the possibility of mounting flights to more destinations in Sabah, Malaysia from regional hubs in the Philippines, while planning to mount long-haul flights to other international markets.

AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricky P. Isla said the group is looking at operating flights from Davao, Zamboanga, and Palawan to “different island provinces of Sabah—that includes Sandakan, where a lot of Filipinos are.”

Currently, the budget carrier operates twice-weekly flights between Manila and Kota Kinabalu.

“We are going to look at this and try to see. I think our competitive advantage compared to other airlines is that we are the first to reopen the flight to Sabah and we would like to keep that dominance or that supremacy, as we reopen our flights for the past few weeks and months,” Isla said in an interview.

The group’s optimism is hinged on the so-called revenge travel phenomenon, which pertains to the pent-up demand for travel and tourism after years of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Isla noted that the group is looking at operating circular flights to generate more value out of the possibility of expanding to and from other Philippine and Malaysian destinations.

This includes the possible introduction of flights originating from Manila, a quick stop in Zamboanga or Puerto Princesa, and an end-destination of a city in Sabah.

Isla said these services could be introduced “towards the first quarter of 2023,” as AirAsia Philippines implements the planned expansion of its Manila-Kota Kinabalu operations.

Sabah Tourism Board CEO Noredah Othman said her group sees the Philippines as an important tourism market for Sabah, given its proximity.

“Manila has a huge market of expats and we would like to tap that market from the Philippines,” she said. “With Manila reopening its borders lately, Manila can be another hub for us. The Philippines should be one of our prime markets to tap because there’s always a close tie between the two states.”

Expansion plans

Aside from strengthening its Sabah operations, AirAsia Philippines also plans to expand its international operations, particularly looking at mounting flights from the Philippines to territories such as the Middle East and Australia, two nations with huge populations of overseas Filipinos.

The plan, which may be implemented in the first quarter of 2023, however, will largely depend on the provision of new planes for AirAsia Philippines by Malaysian parent AirAsia Berhad.

“Hopefully, they’ll give us big planes for long-haul flights,” Isla said.

Currently, AirAsia Philippines has a fleet of 10 A320s in operation. Fourteen of its planes are currently undergoing maintenance checks. By the end of 2022, the airline should have a fleet of 24 A320s, allowing it to reopen and expand its operations.

Isla said the group will be asking for bigger planes that have already been ordered by AirAsia Berhad from Airbus. In particular, AirAsia Philippines is looking at getting bigger A330s and A321 XLR (extra long range) to mount long-haul flights.

“We really want to get long-haul flights in the very near future,” Isla said.

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