AirAsia Could Be Bigger than SIA, Cathay Pacific: Fernandes

SINGAPORE ~ AirAsia, the budget carrier launched five years ago with two aircraft, says it could be bigger than Asian giants Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Cathay Pacific by next year.

The founder of the Malaysia-based airline, Tony Fernandes, was commenting after his airline signed contracts on Monday for another 50 medium-range Airbus A320 jets and options on 50 more.

“I’d imagine we’d be the largest airline in Asia by passenger size by 2013 or 2014,” The Business Times quoted Fernandes as saying. “In fact by next year, we could be bigger than Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific in terms of passenger carriage.”

Fernandes said in November that AirAsia expected to carry at least 16 million passengers in the financial year to June 2007, up from 9.31 million previously.

In October, Singapore Airlines reported that it flew a record nine million passengers during the first half of the 2006-2007 financial year.

If AirAsia surpasses SIA and Cathay Pacific in passenger numbers, “The only airlines bigger than us would be Qantas, two Japanese airlines and a Chinese airline,” the Today newspaper quoted him as saying. He was referring to the Australian flag carrier as well as JAL, ANA and Air China.

Fernandes brought budget air travel to Southeast Asia with his short-haul, low-cost formula but last Friday he surprised the aviation industry by announcing a new budget airline for long-haul routes.

Fernandes said AirAsia X would take off in July with flights to Britain for as little as 9.99 ringgit, or less than US$3.

The airline will be operated by Malaysian carrier Fly Asian Express (FAX), also founded by Fernandes. It currently provides rural air services on Borneo island.

Fernandes said he expected AirAsia X to carry 500,000 passengers in its first year of operation, and was looking to acquire 20 new aircraft – either the Boeing 777-300 or Airbus A330-300, both of which are twin-aisle jets.

Singapore financial weekly The Edge quoted Fernandes this week as saying AirAsia X would help expedite his dream of creating the world’s biggest airline group.

“Within the next seven years, I am convinced we will be the world’s largest airline, with 50 million passengers a year,” Fernandes was quoted as saying.

AirAsia has 50 planes, flying to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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