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AirAsia and AirAsia X to exceed 3 million Fly-Thru transit passengers in 2014 as model evolves

AirAsia should see a surge in transfer traffic over the next several months as it introduces and expands its Fly-Thru transit product at additional hubs. AirAsia is evolving to become more like a network carrier, following other Asian LCC groups which have been promoting and selling connections for several years.

Bangkok Don Mueang in late 2013 became the second hub for AirAsia’s Fly-Thru product, which was initially introduced at Kuala Lumpur in 2010.

AirAsia introduced the transit product at Jakarta in Sep-2014 and is planning to extend Fly-Thru to Bali and Kota Kinabalu by the end of 2014.

The launch of long-haul affiliates in Indonesia and Thailand is driving much of the growth. But there is also growing demand for short-haul to short-haul connections.

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Including self-connections, transit accounts for roughly 10% of total AirAsia traffic

AirAsia and AirAsia X flew 1.45 million passengers in 1H2014 through its Fly-Thru transit programme and is on pace to exceed 3 million for the full year. But there are still huge opportunities for further growth as Fly-Thru accounted for less than 6% of the 24.9 million total passengers carried by AirAsia, AirAsia X and their affiliates in 1H2014.

When including self-connecting passengers the transit portion is roughly 10%, also an indication there is still a lot of room for growth.

So far most of the transit traffic been generated by Malaysian long-haul LCC AirAsia X. The Fly-Thru product was initially launched in 2010 as AirAsia recognised the importance of short-haul feed in establishing a viable long-haul low-cost model.

AirAsia X launched services in 2007 and in its first three years relied heavily on self-connections as passengers booked themselves onto connecting AirAsia short-haul flights at Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia X also noticed a significant number of self-connections to other carriers, particularly in Europe before it dropped London and Paris services in early 2012.

AirAsia X drives rapid growth in AirAsia transit traffic

AirAsia X has more than doubled its transit traffic portion since Fly-Thru, which provides a through check-in service for a fee, was introduced. When relying on self-connections AirAsia X only saw about 20% of its total traffic transfer to other flights operated by AirAsia X or other AirAsia carriers (excludes self-connections to other airlines as these cannot be tracked).

In 2011, 27% of AirAsia X’s passengers transferred onto other AirAsia/AirAsia X flights. In 1H2014 this figure surpassed 50% for the first time. The portion of total passengers that connected using Fly-Thru increased from only 7% in 2011 to 34% in 1H2014.

AirAsia X portion of transit traffic: 2011 to 1H2014

The 34% figure equates to 714,000 AirAsia X passengers paying for the Fly-Thru product in 1H2014. The 17% opting to self-connect equates to 357,000 passengers. Overall AirAsia X carried 2.1 million passengers in 1H2014, an increase of 56% compared to 1H2013.

AirAsia X Fly-Thru figures for 1H2013 are not available. But for all of 2013 AirAsia X had 790,000 Fly-Thru passengers while in 2012 it had only 410,000. AirAsia will likely exceed 1.6 million Fly-Thru passengers for the full year in 2014, representing year over year growth of over 100%.

AirAsia short-haul carriers start to see rapid transit growth on very low base

In its results presentation for 2Q2014, the AirAsia Group reported 735,000 Fly-Thru passengers in 1H2014 and stated this represents an increase of 96% compared to 1H2013. The AirAsia Group flew 22.8 million passengers in 1H2014, an increase of 15% compared to 1H2013. As a result only 3% of AirAsia Group traffic used Fly-Thru in 1H2014 compared to the much larger figure of 34% for AirAsia X. (The AirAsia Group did not provide a figure for self connecting passengers.)

The AirAsia Group consists of short-haul subsidiary Malaysia AirAsia and four short-haul affiliates – Thai AirAsia, Indonesia AirAsia, Philippines AirAsia and AirAsia India. While the Fly-Thru product was only available in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok in 1H2014, Indonesia AirAsia and Philippines AirAsia flights to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok have been available under the Fly-Thru programme. (AirAsia India only commenced operations in Jun-2014 and does net yet participate in Fly-Thru.)

So far most AirAsia Group transit passengers have connected to or from long-haul flights operated by AirAsia X rather than other short-haul flights. Of the 735,000 Fly-Thru passengers flown by AirAsia Group in 1H2014 roughly two third connected onto AirAsia X flights and one third onto other short-haul flights.

The above estimate assumes about 34% of AirAsia X passengers connected onto AirAsia short-haul flights, including 23% buying Fly-Thru and 11% opting for self-connections. This is based on actual figures for 2013 and projections for 2014. AirAsia X reported 34% of its total traffic connected onto AirAsia short-haul flights in both 2012 and 2013, including Fly-Thru and self-connecting.

AirAsia X sees surge in AirAsia X to AirAsia X connections

The portion of AirAsia X passengers connecting onto AirAsia short-haul flights has not grown over the last year and is expected to remain flat as the growth in AirAsia X’s overall transit portion is being driven by AirAsia X-AirAsia X expansion. The number of AirAsia X-AirAsia X connecting passengers has surged over the last year as AirAsia X has added second daily frequencies on several routes, opening up dozens of new city pairs, particularly between Australia and North Asia.

The portion of AirAsia X passengers connecting onto other AirAsia X flights was 9% in 2013 compared to only 4% in 2012. AirAsia X is projecting that about 16% of its passengers in 2014 will connect between two AirAsia X flights.

CAPA has outlined in prior reports the rapid rise in AirAsia X transit traffic and the opportunities for further growth. AirAsia X’s adoption of a low-cost network model has huge potential repercussions for the full-service sector throughout Asia-Pacific as hundreds of city pairs which have been dominated by flag carriers start to get new low-cost options.

See related reports:

Launch of new AirAsia X affiliates to drive further transit growth

AirAsia X will continue to grow its transit passenger numbers as it expands. It is hard imagine the overall portion of transit passengers increasing significantly beyond the current 51% as this is already a high figure even for full-service carriers. But even without further growth in the ratio the volumes will increase exponentially as AirAsia X is planning to quadruple the size of its fleet (to about 100 aircraft) over the next 10 years.

Most of AirAsia X’s transit passenger growth over the next few years will likely be recorded in Bangkok and Bali as most of the group’s aircraft slated to be delivered in 2015 and 2016 have been allocated to its new affiliates in Thailand and Indonesia.

Thai AirAsia X (TAAX) launched scheduled services in Jun-2014 and is currently operating two A330s from its Bangkok Don Mueang base to Osaka, Tokyo Narita and Seoul. Indonesia AirAsia is expected to launch scheduled services by the end of 2014 from its base on the popular resort island of Bali to Melbourne and Sydney.

AirAsia is now working to have the Fly-Thru product in place at Bali in time for the launch of Indonesia AirAsia X (IAAX).

Thai AirAsia expects rapid growth in transit traffic

The decision to introduce Fly-Thru at Don Mueang in Dec-2013 was driven in part by the planned launch of TAAX. Thai AirAsia has stated that it expects TAAX to generate an incremental load factor improvement of 1 to 2pps across its short-haul operation.

The other main driver was political instability in Bangkok, which impacted inbound visitor demand at the Thai capital. As Thailand’s other tourists destinations were not impacted, Fly-Thru helped Thai AirAsia mitigate the impact of the unrest as it was able to offer domestic connections to passengers arriving on its international flights.

Thai AirAsia currently serves 15 domestic and more than 20 international destinations from Don Mueang. It is the airport’s largest carrier with about 48% of seat capacity. When including other AirAsia short-haul carriers and TAAX, the AirAsia X brand accounts for about 55% of seat capacity at Don Mueang.

Bangkok Don Mueang system-wide capacity share (% of seats) by carrier: 6-Oct-2014 to 12-Oct-2014

Transit opportunities could enable faster growth for AirAsia at Bali

AirAsia is smaller at Bali, where it currently accounts for about a 16% share of seat capacity. This includes a 14% share for Indonesia AirAsia.

But there are still several connection opportunities as Indonesia AirAsia operates four domestic and five international routes from Denpasar.

Bali Denpasar system-wide capacity share (% of seats) by carrier: 6-Oct-2014 to 12-Oct-2014

Indonesia AirAsia will offer both short-haul to short-haul connections at Bali as well as connections to IAAX. The new long-haul operation and the associated transit traffic will likely be the main drivers of growth for AirAsia at Bali.

While Bali is a very popular inbound destination it is a limited outbound market. Connections to bigger Indonesian cities (as well as to cities in neighbouring countries) where there is more outbound demand will help IAAX balance its traffic mix.

Indonesia AirAsia is now working with airport authorities in Bali to introduce Fly-Thru and is confident the transit product will be in place by the end of 2014. International to international connections should be relatively seamless, matching the experience at Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. But international-domestic connections will require longer connection times and a transfer of terminals.

AirAsia starts to pursue transit traffic at Jakarta, a purely short-haul hub

Bali is Indonesia AirAsia’s second largest base after Jakarta. Indonesia AirAsia began offering the Fly-Thru product at Jakarta in Sep-2014. AirAsia domestic and international flights at Jakarta both operate at Terminal 3, a small terminal used primarily by AirAsia, making for relatively easy connections.

The decision to introduce Fly-Thru at Jakarta illustrates the interest the group has in starting to pursue more short-haul to short-haul connections. AirAsia now has an extremely small fraction of short-haul to short-haul connections – roughly 1% of total traffic.

Fly-Thru was only available for AirAsia X to AirAsia and AirAsia X to AirAsia X connections until 2013, when AirAsia to AirAsia city pairs were added. Previously passengers travelling between short-haul flights were required to self-connect.

There is huge potential for AirAsia to expand short-haul to short-haul transit traffic. While it has been a pioneer in the long-haul low-cost network model, AirAsia in many respects has been behind other groups in targeting short-haul to short-haul connections. For example Jetstar has promoted connections, including within Southeast Asia, for several years while the Lion Group has always followed a network model. Tigerair has been a much slower adapter but began offering connections within its short-haul network in early 2013.

Lion’s low-cost network model has been hugely success in Indonesia’s domestic market, where it is now the market leader by a wide margin. Offering connections is essential given Indonesia’s vast geography while low fares are needed to stimulate demand as most of the market is price sensitive.

Indonesia AirAsia should be able to improve load factors and yields by matching Lion in domestic city pairs such as Bali-Medan. Bali and Medan are the third and fifth largest airports in Indonesia but rather incredibly are not connected with any non-stop flights. Bali-Medan is one of several city pairs Indonesia AirAsia introduced in Sept-2014 as it rolled out the Fly-Thru product at Jakarta.

Domestic to domestic as well as international to international connections are now available via Jakarta. Indonesia AirAsia currently operates four domestic and five international routes from Jakarta, according to OAG data. A sixth AirAsia international route at Jakarta is operated by Malaysia AirAsia.

AirAsia to expand Fly-Thru to Kota Kinabalu

AirAsia is also planning to introduce by the end of 2014 Fly-Thru at Kota Kinabalu, which is the second largest hub for Malaysia AirAsia. The decision to offer Fly-Thru at Kota Kinabalu provides a further indication of the group’s push into the short-haul to short-haul transit market.

Like Jakarta, there are currently no plans to establish an AirAsia X base at Kota Kinabalu. (IAAX had looked at establishing a base at Jakarta but slot restrictions and a desire not to split its operation between two hubs led to its decision to at least initially focus only on Bali.)

Malaysia AirAsia currently operates eight domestic and seven international routes from Kota Kinabalu, according to OAG data. The group’s affiliates in Indonesia and the Philippines also each operate one additional international route to Kota Kinabalu that is not also served by Malaysia AirAsia.

The AirAsia Group overall has about a 50% share of total seat capacity at Kota Kinabalu, including a 49% share for Malaysia AirAsia.

Kota Kinabalu system-wide capacity share (% of seats) by carrier: 6-Oct-2014 to 12-Oct-2014

Kota Kinabalu is located in east Malaysia, making it an ideal connection point for flights from North Asia to Southeast Asia. AirAsia currently serves five cities in greater China from Kota Kinabalu – Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Taipei. All these destinations are also served by AirAsia or AirAsia X from Kuala Lumpur but the flight times from Kota Kinabalu are one to two hours shorter.

AirAsia will be able to offer connections via Kota Kinabalu between Greater China and several destinations throughout Malaysia as well as Bali, Jakarta and Singapore. Load factors on Kota Kinabalu routes will likely improve and there could be enough incremental traffic to justify more capacity on existing routes as well as potentially new routes which would not be sustainable without transit traffic.

AirAsia strategy evolves as transit traffic grows

The use of Fly-Thru to grow traffic at Kota Kinabalu is a prime example of how AirAsia is evolving its model with potential huge ramifications for the industry in Asia. It shows the AirAsia model is increasingly becoming more network focused and this evolution is not limited to its long-haul operation.

Over the last year AirAsia also has adopted origin and destination pricing, replacing its original sum of sectors approach for connecting itineraries, and adjusted its revenue management practices to promote transfer traffic across both the short-haul and long-haul operations. (While AirAsia Group and AirAsia X are separate companies they share a website, booking engine and revenue management team.)

AirAsia also has evolved its distribution strategy by partnering with online travel agents, particularly in China, and global distribution system providers. These channels along with a change in pricing strategy have helped push up transit volume in markets that it would struggle to penetrate relying entirely on its own website and sum of sector pricing.

Opening of KLIA2 also provides opportunities for AirAsia to push up transit volumes

Meanwhile, the move from the LCCT to KLIA2 in May-2014 enabled AirAsia to focus even more on transit traffic as the facilities at its main hub have significantly improved. KLIA2 has been designed for transit traffic while AirAsia and Malaysia Airports had to make less than ideal changes to the congested LCCT to support the Fly-Thru product.

Fly-Thru at LCCT was limited as minimum connection times of 120mins were required. Minimum connection times have decreased to 90min at KLIA2. The maximum connection times under Fly-Thru also increased from 360min at LCCT to 600min at KLIA2 because KLIA2 has the facilities to accommodate passengers for longer layovers.

Unlike LCCT, KLIA2 also has airside lounges, providing AirAsia X premium passengers a much better transit experience. Economy class passengers are able to access the lounge on a fee basis.

KLIA2’s improved facilities and shorter connections times has allowed AirAsia to significantly increase the number of city pairs sold through Fly-Thru. There are currently over 600 city pairs available via KLIA2. There are also now over 100 city pairs available via Bangkok Don Mueang.

The LCC transit traffic movement has only just begun

There are huge opportunities for LCC transit traffic at KLIA and Don Mueang as both airports are among the three largest LCC airports in Asia.

Only Jakarta currently has more LCC capacity but Jakarta already has a much higher portion of LCC transit traffic due to the network model and domestic focus at Indonesian market leader Lion.

Top 10 Asia-Pacific airports ranked by LCC capacity: 6-Oct-2014 to 12-Oct-2014

Rank Airport Total Seats
1 CGK Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport 766,438
2 KUL Kuala Lumpur International Airport 660,080
3 DMK Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport 578,322
4 DEL Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport 470,874
5 BOM Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport 413,337
6 SIN Singapore Changi Airport 400,848
7 MNL Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport 383,102
8 SUB Surabaya Juanda Airport 328,951
9 BLR Bangalore Kempegowda International Airport 252,502
10 HND Tokyo Haneda Airport 228,410

As CAPA has previously outlined, Singapore and Manila are also poised to see increases in transit traffic, driven by Tigerair and Scoot at Singapore Changi and by Cebu Pacific Air at Manila. Scoot also recently started to connect at Bangkok Don Mueang with partner Nok Air ahead of the launch of new long-haul joint venture NokScoot.

See related reports:

So far Asia’s LCCs are just scratching the surface when it comes to transit traffic. The portion of transit traffic in the overall sector remains very low, as the AirAsia Group figures from 1H2014 indicate.

But the strategy is now place to generate more significant transit traffic volumes, particularly at AirAsia. This will almost certainly change the competitive landscape in Asia-Pacific as full-service carriers have to contend with new LCC competition across a much wider range of short-haul and medium-haul city pairs.

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