- AirAsia X is planning to resume services to Europe, which it last served in 2012.
- AirAsia X intends to relaunch Kuala Lumpur-London in 2020, when it plans to take delivery of its first A330-900neos.
- In the meantime, AirAsia X is considering the launch of services from Bangkok to Eastern Europe using its Thailand-based affiliate and existing A330-300ceo aircraft.
- Budapest, Prague, Warsaw and Moscow are all possibilities from Bangkok; at least one of these routes will likely be launched within the next year.
For more than three years AirAsia X Group’s Bangkok-based affiliate, Thai AirAsia X, has been evaluating several potential destinations in Eastern Europe that are within range of its existing fleet of A330-300ceos, but it has held back on launching those services, choosing instead to focus expansion in North Asia, where there is generally less risk. However, as the airline accelerates fleet expansion over the next year it is looking to add at least one Eastern European destination.
Thai AirAsia X currently operates a relatively small fleet of seven A330-300s. The airline is planning to double the size of its fleet by the end of 2019 as it adds another seven A330-300s over the next 15 months.
One or two European routes are likely in addition to further expansion in North Asia, where Thai AirAsia X currently serves five – and will soon serve six – destinations.
Budapest, Prague, Warsaw and Moscow are all possibilities for 2019 – and maybe even for the end of 2018. Bangkok-Moscow is a large but highly competitive market that is currently served by Thai Airways and several Russian airlines. Budapest, Prague and Warsaw are smaller markets that are not currently served nonstop from Bangkok by many airlines (although the Gulf airlines offer attractively priced one-stop options).
Budapest, Prague and Warsaw are all LCC hubs – which is an important consideration for Thai AirAsia X as a large percentage of the traffic will likely self-connect to other destinations in Europe. Budapest and Warsaw are hubs for Wizz Air, whereas EasyJet and Ryanair are among the largest four airlines in Prague.
The AirAsia X Group is also planning to return to the London market, but not until at least 2020, when it takes delivery of its first A330-900neo. Although the A330-900neo is entering service later this year, the AirAsia X Group is waiting for a higher gross weight variant that is not entering service until 2020. The higher gross weight is necessary for services to Western European cities, which AirAsia X plans eventually to serve from both Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
AirAsia X is planning to serve London Gatwick initially from Kuala Lumpur, resuming the flagship route it dropped in early 2012. AirAsia X also dropped Kuala Lumpur-Paris Orly in early 2012. London and Paris were served with inefficient A340s, which could not be operated profitably as fuel prices increased.
Gatwick is one of the world’s largest LCC airports but once again is losing its only link to Southeast Asia in Jan-2019, when Norwegian drops its Singapore service. As CAPA stated in a comprehensive analysis published earlier this week, Norwegian’s suspension of Singapore highlights the challenges of long routes (over 12 hours) for LCCs, particularly in an environment of high fuel prices. Singapore to London is currently the world’s longest LCC route and has a scheduled flying time of up to 14 hours.
See related report from CAPA: Low cost long haul: Norwegian Air drops world’s longest LCC route
However, there are still ample opportunities for LCCs to expand in the Southeast Asia-Europe market. Shorter long haul routes (less than 12 hours) are generally more attractive, given they have lower fuel costs. The longer the route, the larger the proportion that fuel represents in the overall costs, and therefore the narrower the gap is between a low cost and full service airline.
Bangkok-Moscow is approximately nine hours and Bangkok to Budapest, Prague or Warsaw would be approximately 10 hours. Unlike London-Kuala Lumpur, none of these would rank among the longest LCC routes in the world. However, they would succeed at getting AirAsia X back into the European market.
The Asia-Europe LCC market will be discussed at the CAPA Long Haul Low Cost Global Summit in Seville on 4/5-Oct-2018. Find out more or register at https://lclh18.capaevents.com/