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Mon, Jul 28, 2008 - Page 10 News List

Visa policies could scupper AirAsia X flights to Japan

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR

Long-haul budget airline AirAsia X is likely to drop plans to fly to Japan next year, despite several airports having welcomed it, because of tough visa rules, a top official has said.

“Give me a chance now and I’d rather fly to [South] Korea, the Middle East and India ... Other countries are competing for Malaysian tourists,” AirAsia X chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani said in an interview.

“To get a Japanese visa, a Malaysian has to visit the embassy in Kuala Lumpur twice and even then the person is not sure a visa will be issued,” he said.

The Australian-based Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said recently that Japan’s highly restrictive visa system virtually rules out Malaysia-based AirAsia X from starting a service next year as it had planned.

CAPA said Japan would have to remove the visa restrictions — which are highly inconvenient to travelers with non-refundable low-cost tickets — to make it attractive to regional budget carriers.

Azran said that when he visited airports in Japan this month, the operators were eager to accept AirAsia X flights, to compensate as full-service carriers like Qantas cut back their frequencies.

“I am looking at all airports except Narita due to congestion and high costs,” he said, adding that AirAsia X was keen to fly to Japan as a wealthy country with a huge population.

If Japanese authorities were to come up with a good proposal, “I will change my plan,” he said.

An affiliate of regional low-cost carrier AirAsia and Virgin Group, AirAsia X was launched in January last year. AirAsia and AirAsia X share common shareholders, including AirAsia founder and CEO Tony Fernandes.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has taken a 20 percent stake in the airline and the British billionaire has vowed to ensure that the project turns a profit.

Azran said the carrier would take delivery of two brand new A330-300 by the end of this year. It has signed a deal with Airbus to buy 25 A330-300 aircraft.

AirAsia X now has one A330-300 aircraft. It currently mounts a four-weekly return flight to Australia’s Gold Coast that began last November and also flies to Hangzhou, China.

It plans to offer six return flights per week between Perth and Kuala Lumpur starting on Nov. 2.

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