Malaysia-based Air Asia Group, which owns the world’s largest budget airline, is considering Bahrain as the hub for its new airline’s Middle East operations.
The new airline, Air Asia X, will operate on long-haul routes including Europe, India, China and Australia, with stops in the Gulf, group chief executive officer Tony Fernandes told the Gulf Daily News.
“We find Bahrain, which is the gateway to the larger Middle East markets, including Saudi Arabia, an excellent location for our hub in the region,” he said.
Fernandes was in Bahrain along with Air Asia group deputy chief executive officer Kamarudin Meranun, to attend the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. Air Asia has sponsored the Williams F1 team.
“We hope to come back to Bahrain within two months and hold talks with the Civil Aviation Affairs to discuss our plans to fly to Bahrain,” said Fernandes. “The initial feedback we received here has been very encouraging.”
Air Asia, launched five years ago with two aircraft, now has 54 aircraft, which operate to 80 destinations in South East Asia. “We have placed orders for 150 brand new Airbus 320 aircraft,” Fernandes revealed. “We carried 11 million passengers last year and our forecast for this year is 18 million. Since the launch we have carried 32 million passengers and we offer the lowest fares in the world at $30 for a 90-minute flight.”
The phenomenal success of Air Asia and its low cost, no frills customers philosophy has seen the airline expand its horizons both throughout the Asia Pacific region, said Fernandes.
Air Asia currently operates narrow-bodied aircraft of a type which cannot fly long distances, he added.
“We have therefore decided to launch the new airline, Air Asia X, to operate wide-bodied aircraft to longer routes,” said Fernandes. “We shall operate to many points in the Gulf, including Bahrain. Once in operation, we are confident of offering Bahrain-Malaysia return tickets at fares as low as $100-$200. The return fare from Kuala Lumpur to London will be only $250,” said Fernandes