Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

AirAsia X flies back into NZ

Ready for take off: AirAsia X is back in New Zealand with $99 fare to Gold Coast. Photo / Supplied
Ready for take off: AirAsia X is back in New Zealand with $99 fare to Gold Coast. Photo / Supplied

AirAsia X's return to New Zealand will help keep downward pressure on fares across the Tasman and into Southeast Asia.

The airline will launch with $99 promotional economy fares from Auckland to the Gold Coast and $249 to Kuala Lumpur on its return to New Zealand in two months.

The airline, Southeast Asia's biggest budget carrier, has slowed its growth over the past year as it faces financial headwinds but will start the daily services out of Auckland from March 22.

An A330-300 aircraft will be used on the route with a seating capacity of 377, a little below the manufacturer's maximum of around 400 seats for regional flights.

Rival airline Air New Zealand is offering fares as low as $179 to the Gold Coast in the week AirAsia launches and Jetstar's fares are as low as $149.

Malaysian Airlines, in the midst of restructuring following the loss of two aircraft in 2014, flies directly to Kuala Lumpur and its cheapest one-way fare that week is $610.

AirAsia X chief executive Benyamin Ismail said New Zealand was "a world-class destination that has always had a special place in our heart".

The airline flew to Christchurch from Malaysia for about a year but quit the service following the 2011 earthquakes, blaming sagging demand at a time fuel prices were going up sharply. House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said the Gold Coast was the number one holiday destination for Kiwis travelling overseas and the entry of Air Asia X with a big plane would add "material" capacity to the route and keep a lid on prices. The airline's extensive network throughout Southeast Asia would also be a lure for travellers.

"Kuala Lumpur is a gateway to the rest of Asia, acting as a connection point to various cities in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China," he said.

"Acknowledging that AirAsia has previously flown to Christchurch, only to withdraw from the route a year later, we believe this time they are coming to the New Zealand market under different circumstances. With a bigger market in Auckland and growth in popularity for Asia as a holiday destination, this is a great time for an Asian airline to come to New Zealand."

Unusually for a budget carrier AirAsia X also offers lie-flat premium cabin seats which are also part of the promotion from today for $299 one-way to the Gold Coast or $599 to Kuala Lumpur.

The airline also has a small child-free "Quiet Zone" on its A330-300s.

The area is reserved for passengers aged above 12 and comprises the first seven economy class rows after the premium cabin.

Norris Carter, Auckland Airport's general manager of aeronautical commercial, said the new service would boost New Zealand's international visitor numbers, especially for free independent travellers.

"It will also mean more affordable travel to Asia for Kiwis, and increased capacity to the Gold Coast."

The airline has just announced plans to raise as much as $1.35 billion to refinance debt and buy planes after the fall in the Malaysian ringgit pushed the carrier to a third-quarter net loss.

Its Indonesian offshoot was also rocked by the crash of an A320 plane in the Java Sea late in 2014. All 162 people on board were killed and investigators concluded the crash was caused by the pilots' response to a rudder problem.

The move by Air Asia X comes as Singapore Airlines is tipped to start four-times-a-week services between Wellington, Canberra and Singapore.

The airline is not commenting on the reports but it is understood an announcement is imminent.

- NZ Herald

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