Tuesday, January 21, 2014

AirAsia targets 2015 for new Japan venture.

AirAsia (AK/AXM) is close to restarting plans for a Japanese unit, according to the group's director Tony Fernandes. In an interview in London on January 17th, he revealed that new local partners have been found, and that the airline would launch in 2015. It will be more than one year from now, partly for the group to focus on starting up AirAsia India, the launch date of which could be delayed again from March, due to authorization issues. 
AirAsia Japan (Mk I) Airbus A320-216(SL) JA04AJ is now in Malaysia as 9M-AQX. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

The Malaysian LCC's first Japanese venture AirAsia Japan (JW/WAJ) ended in a divorce with partner ANA Holdings, parent of All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), only 10 months after launching operations in August 2012, due to disagreements over how the airline would be run. AirAsia Japan ceased operations on October 26th, 2013, and re-launched as Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) under 100% ANA control on December 20th.

AirAsia erred in giving majority control to ANA (67%), but foreign ownership of Japanese airlines are capped at 33%, and an unspoken rule had it that the carrier must not be 'de facto' controlled by a foreign entity, effectively forcing new entrants to team-up with existing Japanese airlines. But times seem to be changing, with Spring Airlines Japan (SJO) becoming the first foreign-led newcomer not affiliated with an existing Japanese carrier to receive an operating certificate. Chinese LCC Spring Airlines (9C/CQH) made sure it retains the biggest share, at 33%. This should be encouraging news for Mr. Fernandes, who promised to come back to the world's third largest domestic market.

Mr. Fernandes has ruled out a Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) base outright, calling the slot-restricted and curfew-plagued airport where his first venture "should never have been". Rumors have it that a 24-hour airport in western Japan would be selected as its operating hub... there are only four; Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG), Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB), Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR), and Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH).

Source: Bloomberg (in English)

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