Air Asia founder mulls airline base in Macau

Air Asia's founder said today he is considering the possibility of establishing a base in Macau for the largest low-cost carrier in the region.

In an interview with the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP), Tony Fernandes said that "entering China could be via Macau,", which would make Air Asia the first foreign airline to throw its hat into the ring since Air Macau's 25-year monopoly came to an end in January.

"We do not have to be in the mainland China, but being in Macau is like being in China," said Air Asia's founder and chief executive Tony Fernandes at an investment conference in Hong Kong.

A base in Macau - the first toehold in China for the Kuala Lumpur-based carrier since its inaugural service in 2004 - would put the airline within easy reach of Chinese travelers.

Such a base would also be a staging point for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), a project that will create a global metropolis comprising the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau and nine cities (Guangzhou, Dongguan, Foshan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Shenzhen, Zhaoqing, Zhongshan and Zhuhai) in Guangdong Province, southern China.

The region boasts a combined population of 60 million people and a GDP of US$1.3 trillion - higher than the GDP of G20 members Australia, Indonesia and Mexico.

Currently, Air Asia flies to four destinations within the Greater Bay Area - Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou - and it is open to the possibility of obtaining a certificate to operate an airline in Macau, Fernandes said.

"If the chance opens up [to be based in Macau], yeah, that is another way," he said.

Air Asia's operations span the entire region and include Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and Japan. The company has also agreed to launch a low-cost unit in Vietnam.

The carrier is the second-biggest user of Macau Airport, taking 15% of the runway slots in the airfield with flights arriving from Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, while 102 departures are scheduled every week. Only Air Macau has a bigger presence, controlling two-fifths of the slots.

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