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AirAsia to expand to Davao in 6 months

MANILA, Philippines —  Low-cost carrier AirAsia is planning to begin its expansion plans in the Philippines within the next six months, a top official said.

In an interview, AirAsia co-founder and chief executive officer Tony Fernandes expressed his optimism for the Philippines, given the country’s location in the region.

“It’s just on doorstep of China, Japan and Korea. It’s really one of the best kept secrets in ASEAN. Everybody knows Bali, everybody knows Phuket, but the Philippines has some of the best features in the world. (We’re) very very optimistic,” Fernandes said.

The Department of Finance (DOF) earlier announced that Fernandes is planning to operate flights from Davao City to China, Japan and Korea in a recent meeting with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

Asked for the status of the said expansion plans, Fernandes said it’s moving.

“So it’s moving, but it requires a lot of coordination with lots of people. I think within six months we can start,” Fernandes said.

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Apart from the planned flights to the three countries, Fernandes said the air carrier would begin operating flights from Davao City to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia by December.

“We’re also doing KL to Davao flights as well,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes earlier presented plans for its latest route to Davao City during the Davao Investment Conference last July.

“We believe Davao has the potential to be the international gateway for ASEAN to the southern Philippines, beginning with this new route to Kuala Lumpur. We strongly support the development of cities outside Metro Manila, and we are confident that by increasing connectivity and accessibility to affordable air travel, AirAsia can help play a role in boosting economic growth in the south,” Fernandes earlier said.

The new route is the fourth direct route from Malaysia to the Philippines after Manila, Cebu and Kalibo which has flown a total of 577,536 passengers in 2015 and 2016 alone. AirAsia also connects guests to other cities in the Philippines including Clark, Manila, Caticlan, Kalibo, Tacloban, Palawan, Cebu and Tagbilaran.

Moreover, despite the optimism for the Philippine market, Fernandes cited the country’s airport or departure tax as something that is holding the company back from expanding in the Philippines.

“We believe that there are other options for us to expand on airports,” Fernandes said.

The DOF earlier acknowledged this issue brought up by Fernandes, with Dominguez saying the department will look into the possibility of lowering or scrapping the airport tax in small airports to help cut travel costs and boost trade and tourism.

Dominguez also expressed the possibility of airports selling or leasing gates to airlines at different rates depending on the landing times, in lieu of imposing airport taxes.

In this year alone, Airasia has launched new flights from Davao to Cebu, Palawan and Boracay, and enabled Fly-Thru via Cebu to international destinations such as Singapore, Taipei and Seoul.

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