AirAsia Philippines, the local arm of Southeast Asia’s largest budget carrier, has revealed that the airline intends to restore flights at Clark International Airport upon completion of the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road in 2016.
The carrier originally launched operations from Clark International Airport in March 2012 with two aircraft flying to a number of domestic and international destinations. However, the airport proved to be a challenging place to do business with the majority of travellers unwilling to make the lengthy journey to Clark. After acquiring a 49 percent stake in ZestAir last year, AirAsia announced in September that it would discontinue operations at Clark International Airport and relocate its hub to Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
“It’s been a rough ride. It’s been hard because Clark did not work. We thought Clark will be easier but the market was not prepared to go that far,” said Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO. However, Fernandes is optimistic that when the connector road is completed, Clark will be an easier sell as the travel time between Makati and Clark will be cut to just 45 minutes. “Secretary Rogelio Singson mentioned to me that it would be ready by 2016. If we get that by 2016, we will go back. We like Clark,” Fernandes added.
The NLEX-SLEX Connector Road project is a segment of the North Luzon Expressway, which travels from C3 in Caloocan City to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta. Mesa, Manila. The connector project is currently being constructed by Manila North Tollways Corporation. The project is due for completion in 2016. Meanwhile, in spite of a rough start, Fernandes remains optimistic about AirAsia’s future in the Philippine market with just three airlines left to compete after unprecedented consolidation. “There is big potential here. The market is big,” said Fernandes. He added that the carrier is now focused on international destinations such as Japan, Korea, and China.
AirAsia Zest currently flies to China, South Korea, and a handful of domestic destinations. The carrier is planning to set up a second hub at Kalibo International Airport, which it will use to launch a number of new direct flights to China aimed at attracting more tourists to Boracay Island. The carrier is also preparing to launch its first direct flights between the Philippines and Japan later this year. AirAsia Philippines entered into a strategic partnership with ZestAir last year, acquiring a 49 percent stake in the carrier in order to gain access to slots at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. ZestAir later rebranded as AirAsia Zest. AirAsia Philippines is currently in the final stages of acquiring congressional approval to take over controlling interest in AirAsia Zest.