Thursday, June 26, 2014

AirAsia and Rakuten to announce AirAsia Japan on July 1st.

Japan's largest e-commerce firm Rakuten will reportedly be AirAsia Group's primary Japanese partner to launch the new AirAsia Japan (Mk II). The new LCC plans to launch domestic and regional international routes from Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) in summer 2015 using Airbus A320s. AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes and Rakuten President Hiroshi Mikitani are expected to hold a joint press conference on July 1st.
AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes speaking at the New Economy Summit 2014 held in Tokyo in April. (Photo: AFP)

The Malaysian LCC's first attempt at the Japanese market with AirAsia Japan (JW/WAJ) (Mk I) (CoachFlyer JW8541: NRT - FUK on AirAsia Japan's Airbus A320.) ended in a divorce with joint-venture (JV) partner All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) only 10 months after launching operations in August 2012, due to disagreements over how the airline would be run and other complicated reasons. Operations ceased on October 26th, 2013, and the airline restarted as Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) on December 20th under 100% ANA ownership (Vanilla Air launches operations.). 

Asked about the deal, a Rakuten spokesperson commented "There is nothing to disclose at this moment." Rakuten operates Rakuten Travel, a popular internet-based travel website, and AirAsia would be able utilize Rakuten's extensive domestic distribution channels, while Rakuten would be able to tap into the booming intra-Asian travel market through AirAsia. This partnership could become crucial, since Japan's general public prefers booking through travel agencies and participate in package tours, instead of purchasing tickets directly from airlines and making travel itineraries on their own.

AirAsia (AK/AXM) intends to hold 33%, the maximum possible figure under Japan's airline foreign ownership rules, while the remainder will be split among two to three companies including Rakuten. However, three would enable AirAsia to retain the highest share. Earlier this February, Mr. Fernandes had revealed that talks were underway involving 'like-minded' listed Japanese companies to invest up to 70 million USD in initial start-up capital. For their failed first try (Mk I), they had erred in giving ANA majority control at 67%.

AirAsia is currently using a legal vehicle named Air Innovation, which in March set up AAJR, the body that would become the new airline. AAJR was officially renamed AirAsia Japan on May 1st and registered their headquarters at Chubu Centrair (New AirAsia Japan to be based at Nagoya Chubu Centrair.). AirAsia's new Japanese unit will be led by CEO Yoshinori Odagiri, former CEO of AirAsia Japan (Mk I) (JW/WAJ) and CFO Osamu Hata, Dell's former Japan unit head (New AirAsia Japan names CEO; official launch in April.).

Reference: Toyo Keizai, June 26th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Nikkei Shimbun, June 26th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Asahi Shimbun, June 26th. (in Japanese)

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