Thursday, August 03, 2006

AirAsia wants lower airport tax

SEPANG: Airport tax at the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) here should be reduced sharply to justify the level of facilities available compared to the main terminal nearby, according to AirAsia’s group chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes.

Speaking at a press conference here yesterday, Fernandes said AirAsia’s passengers have asked him to reduce the airport tax although the terminal was owned by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB).

At present, MAHB charges RM35 in airport tax per passenger for international destinations and RM6 for domestic destinations at the LCCT, while the rates at the main terminal in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) are RM45 for international destinations and RM6 domestic destinations.

“I believe it should be zero,” Fernandes said when asked for his opinion on a fair rate for the airport tax.

He said unlike the main terminal, the LCCT was designed to cater to budget airlines and budget travellers.

“The airport is equipped with basic facilities and passengers are aware that they are buying a no-frills product. As such, the airport charges should reflect the differences,” he added.

Since AirAsia started operations at the LCCT, it has carried around two million passengers. The LCCT was built to cater to 10 million passengers per year with an expansion capacity for 250 million passengers.

Fernandes said although the LCCT currently does not have an aerobridge facility to provide weather-proof access to aircraft, the low-cost carrier had been informed that a covered walkway would be built in six months’ time.

On the rationalisation of the domestic air services, Fernandes said it got off well without major hiccups.

On Tuesday was AirAsia’s first day operating all the 99 local routes under the government’s domestic air services rationalisation plan.

Under the plan, Fly Asian Express (FAX), a company by Air Asia shareholders, is taking over 32 rural area destinations in Sabah and Sarawak from Malaysia Airlines (MAS) for five years.

Fernandes said he was informed by FAX that 8,000 seats were sold yesteday.

“We are trying to rush in more flights to Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

AirAsia planned to increase the frequency of its Kuala Lumpur-Kuching and Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu flights to eight from the current seven, and to raise its Kuala Lumpur-Miri flights by an additional flight to three, Fernandes said.

The airline, he said, was also looking to double its Kuala Lumpur-Brunei flights to two.

Fernandes said the rationalisation plan reflected the government’s commitment to support the growth of two national carriers, allowing both airlines to thrive in their respective market segments.

AirAsia’s deputy group chief executive Datuk Kamarudin Meranun said with the rationalisation, the airline could now operate in a healthy domestic environment and grow under market forces.

“MAS’ recent announcement is indeed positive news for AirAsia. Fares will now be commercially driven since the airline is accountable for the profit and loss of its domestic operations,” he said in a statement.

MAS had announced on Monday that effective August 15, its fares for domestic routes would be increased by 15 per cent for economy class and 25 per cent for business class.

In a statement, AirAsia said FAX carried a total of 1,075 passengers on its first day with close to 100 flights operated by seven Fokker-50 aircraft and five 19-seater Twin Otters.

FAX achieved 98 per cent load for the Labuan-Miri, Kota-Kinabalu-Sandakan and Miri-Sibu sectors and 90 per cent for Miri-Mulu sector.

Loads for other sectors were between 65 and 75 per cent.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times

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