The long-haul arm of budget carrier AirAsia will add six leased aircraft to its growing fleet as it pushes to build up its presence in Asia.
AirAsia X, which this year slashed routes to Europe and India to refocus on the Asia-Pacific, said it would lease the six Airbus A330-300s from US-based International Lease Finance Corp. in a deal worth approximately $500 million.
The carrier currently operates nine Airbus A330-300s and two A340-300s. It is already awaiting delivery of 17 other aircraft it has purchased from Europe’s Airbus.
“The six new aircraft will help AirAsia X maintain its leadership position and stay far ahead of our competitors. We will now be able to mount more flights to Australia, China, Japan and South Korea,” AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman-Rani said.
The airline and leasing firm signed a letter of intent on the deal in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. AirAsia X will begin taking delivery of the planes next year.
Azran said AirAsia X, which carried 2.5 million passengers last year, has targeted 7 million passengers by 2014 on the back of the additional capacity.
AirAsia X concentrates on long-haul routes of over four hours while AirAsia and its regional subsidiaries handle shorter flights.
AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes said a public listing of AirAsia X was “imminent”, but did not specify a timeframe.
There have been reports that AirAsia X could list on the Kuala Lumpur exchange by the end of the year to help fund its ambitious expansion plans.
Fernandes, a former record industry executive, plucked ailing AirAsia from insolvency in 2001 and quickly turned it into a profitable budget carrier and one of the aviation sector’s biggest successes.
He established a successful template that included flying into cheaper secondary airports in major cities and launched AirAsia X in 2007 to serve routes beyond the airline’s core Southeast Asian market.
But AirAsia X this year cut unprofitable routes to Europe, India and New Zealand to focus on expanding its services to China, Japan and elsewhere in Asia.
AirAsia has refocused on shoring up its presence in short-haul routes within Asia against a host of new competitors, and recently set up a regional headquarters in Jakarta to direct the effort.