The Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Philippines believes that Clark International Airport is Manila's best chance at decongesting flights at Ninoy Aquino International Airport and is the only viable alternative for a secondary international airport.
Clark International Airport is hoping that AirAsia Philippines will shift its operations once again back to Clark. "We hope based on the conversations with Maan Hontiveros that they are very impressed with the new developments at the airport and that they will try to convince their Manila operations to transfer at Clark," said Tanjuatco.
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"We have always believed in the dual airport system," said Maan Hontiveros, CEO of AirAsia Philippines. "We have always believed that this is Clark. It will complement the operations of Ninoy Aquino International Airport."
As affirmation of AirAsia's position, Hontiveros highlighted the resumption of direct flights offered between Clark and Kuala Lumpur by parent company, Malaysia-based Air Asia Berhad. Hontiveros was on hand at Clark International Airport last month to welcome the return of AirAsia to Clark on October 17. The new flights will be operated four times weekly.
AirAsia Philippines last served Clark approximately one year ago when it relocated its primary hub to Ninoy Aquino International Airport after it formed a strategic alliance with what was then known as Zest Airways. "We always said it was temporary," said Hontiveros. "Now we are back." Those sentiments were echoed by AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes earlier this year when he stated that the carrier would one day return to Clark. "We love Clark," said Fernandes.
However, in spite of the return of direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Clark, it remains unclear when AirAsia will resume flights at Clark as a secondary base. Clark International Airport was previously AirAsia Philippines' primary hub in the Philippines. Hontiveros added that the carrier would be back "sooner than later."
AirAsia Philippines has been concentrating its efforts on improving its strategic alliance with Zest Airways, which now operates as AirAsia Zest. In addition to streamlining operations, AirAsia has been busy infusing its company standards at Zest over the better part of the last year. This resulted in the airline folding up operations at Clark in order to bring their best people to Manila.
"It wasn't practical if we were operating at two places at one time," said Hontiveros. Both carriers now operate out of Terminal 4 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Hontiveros added that AirAsia had "lost money and not profited" during its time at Clark International Airport, but that it was to be expected. The irrational competition in the Philippine market with an excessive number of carriers and the high cost of aviation gas all contributed to the inability to generate a profit.
However, with the recent decision of the Supreme Court to limit the increase of gasoline prices on foreign flights, Hontiveros remains optimistic that AirAsia, voted World's Best Low-Cost Airline for several consecutive years, will begin to profit in 2015 at Clark and NAIA.
Meanwhile, officials at Clark International Airport are pleased to see the return of AirAsia to the Pampanga gateway. "I think this is a positive development for Clark Airport," said Emigdio Tanguatco III, CEO of Clark International Airport. "On our part, we will try to keep them satisfied, make sure that all their concerns are addressed and build a better relationship with AirAsia." The airport has struggled to attract a large number of passengers and major carriers due to its distance from Manila and the lack of available public transport.
Hontiveros noted that the return of flights between Clark and Kuala Lumpur is a positive development for both Clark Airport and Air Asia. "We are very happy as passengers are excited about the return of the Clark-Kuala Lumpur flights at Clark Airport and we will continue providing a much better travel experience for our passengers taking their flights at Clark," said Hontiveros. Passengers travelling to Kuala Lumpur from Clark can take advantage of AirAsia's extensive network out of its main hub at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.