AirAsia X, the long-haul division of Malaysia-based low-cost carrier AirAsia, announced today that they have received clearance from the FAA for scheduled passenger service to/from the United States. AirAsia X is the first Asian budget airline to receive such clearance, and should they decide to actually launch the flights, can potentially stir up the market a bit.
According to the press release, the airline is considering a few destinations in the US, including cities in Hawaii. CEO Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, said:
This is a major milestone for AirAsia X. Our expansion up until now has concentrated on Asia, Australasia and the Middle East, and we are excited about our first foray into an entirely new market as we look beyond Asia Pacific. I’m confident travellers will respond well to our award-winning service and the kind of connectivity we can offer with our Fly-Thru product. As part of our expansion plans, we are also looking to resume our very popular London route, and are working towards securing the necessary approvals.
Flights from Asia to the US are ultra long-haul flights, which are traditionally very difficult on which to turn a profit. Without business travelers as a revenue driver, I’d be very curious to see what kind of routes they have in mind. Of course, Air Asia X, the long-haul division has long offered “Premium Flatbed” at the forward cabin, featuring angled-flat seats with complimentary meals, greater baggage allowance, and even lounge access. So perhaps there is a niche market for travelers who are willing to pay more for better sleep quality onboard, but don’t require or wouldn’t shell out for a full-fledge, fully flat Business Class product.
AirAsia X currently operates a fleet comprised entirely of Airbus A330 aircraft. However, they do have a number of A350s on order, the earliest of which should enter service by the end of 2018. If they are really launching flights to the US, I’d expect this fleet of A350 aircraft to form the backbone of their operation.
The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that the first route might very well be between Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Honolulu (HNL), with a stop in Osaka (KIX) to capture the market of Japanese travelers who fly between Japan and Hawaii. The airline has even said that they expect to open reservation very soon after receiving clearance, so we might even be able to start booking tickets in the coming weeks!