AirAsia to connect more small towns, fly abroad by early 2019

Budget carrier AirAsia India has charted out expansion plans, which include flights to overseas destinations by January 2019 and connecting more tier-II and III cities, its managing director and chief executive Amar Abrol said on Saturday.

The airline last week inducted its 16th aircraft and announced the addition of Nagpur and Indore to its list of destinations.

''Our strategy is that once we get to 20 planes (in domestic operations) we will start flying international. Mostly, it will be to Southeast Asian countries,'' he told PTI in Chennai.

He said 27 per cent of the people who fly with AirAsia are flying for the first time. ''So we are opening up the Indian skies. And we are getting lot many more Indians to fly for the first time.''

The plan is to connect an increasing number of small Indian cities and towns - tier II and tier III in Indian marketing speak - wherever the Airbus A320 can go.

He said internationally, the company would serve those markets which were already connected by the airline's group entities - AirAsia Malaysia, AirAsia Indonesia, AirAsia Thailand. ''We will be flying mostly to Malaysia, Indonesia and neighbouring SAARC countries as well. Bangladesh, Nepal and so on and so forth,'' he said.

Asked whether there would be any competition within the AirAsia Group, as AirAsia Malaysia and AirAsia Thailand operate, he replied in the affirmative, saying it will be healthy competition between the airlines.

''That is not a problem. I think there is enough demand for AirAsia Malaysia to grow and AirAsia India to grow.'' He said the customer would decide the flight to a destination, whether AirAsia Malaysia or AirAsia India. ''For the customer there will not be any difference. It will be an AirAsia plane, AirAsia service. There will not be any difference. Probably there may be (some difference) in the cabin crew,'' he said.

On pricing, he said, ''AirAsia Malaysia is an independent entity, AirAsia India is an independent entity. We will price according to what we feel is right. But ultimately, it is the consumers who will decide which flight they want to take.''

Referring to the Centre's ambitious UDAAN scheme which aims to connect under-served cities, Abrol said the airliner was not participating in the scheme because the planes owned by them were Airbus A320s.

The government's ambitious UDAN (Ude Desh Ke Aam Naagrik) scheme caps fares at Rs2,500 for a one-hour flight. It aims at boosting air connectivity to and from unserved and under-served airports and making flying more affordable.

''UDAAN scheme is typically meant for 10-seater or 15- seater ATRs. We have big planes. Hence we are not participating in the UDAN Scheme per se,'' Abrol said.

''Our focus has been on tier II and III cities. Because, we believe that is where quite a lot of demand is,'' he said. The company recently introduced flights on the Bhubaneswar-Chennai route. ''We are connecting Chennai to Bhubaneswar and we are not necessarily connecting Chennai to New Delhi, because that is a market which is already served very well,'' he said.

AirAsia India is a joint venture between Tata Sons Limited and AirAsia, with AirAsia Investment Limited. It commenced operations in June 2014 and currently flies to 17 destinations with its hubs in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Kolkata.