Thai AirAsia joins parent AirAsia as it commences India expansion plans

AirAsia Penang Chennai inaugural flightLast week Malaysia based low cost carrier AirAsia commenced its second phase of India expansion becoming the only carrier with flights between Chennai the capital of Tamil Nadu state in India, and the northern technology manufacturing centre of Penang in Malaysia.

Apart from the scores of ethnic Tamil origin population on both sides, major electronics players like Dell, Flextronics, Foxcon, and others can now bypass a tedious transit at Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Bangkok and get to Penang faster.

Tomorrow, May 6th, the long haul arm AirAsia X will commence flights between the Malaysia capital Kuala Lumpur and the commercial capital of India, Mumbai. By the end of this month, Chennai and Bangalore will be connected to Kuala Lumpur with Hyderabad joining in July and Delhi in August. Full details of the schedule and launch dates can be read here.

AirAsia’s subsidiary Thai AirAsia is also set to join the aggressive expansion with direct flights between Bangkok and Delhi and Kolkata in July once it receives remaining clearances.

AirAsia itself will have 148 weekly flights to India before this year it out. Airline CEO Tony Fernandes is ebullient about future prospects indicating the carrier is planning a third daily flight to its first India destination, the tier 2 city of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy).

AirAsia wants to fly to 15 Indian destinations by the end of 2011 if it can secure the needed approvals, which would catapult it over Emirates, currently, the dominant foreign carrier in India.

The ASEAN triangle of Bangkok (Thailand), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore is a major tourist destination, especially for first time overseas Indian tourist. The burgeoning middle class provides large volumes of value concious passengers to the carrier much to the dismay of ASEAN competitors, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and to a degree Singapore Airline’s subsidiary SilkAir, though SilkAir is commencing daily services to Bangalore by the 18th of this month. Staffers at Singapore Airlines remain un-fazed. The airline’s reputation and top notch service ensures they are so full, that their fares are typically 150%~200% of their nearest competitor across all classes, but especially the premium business and first class.

AirAsia’s invasion of the Indian skies will also offer stiff competition to Indian carriers as well both low cost and legacy. Air India, Air India Express, Jet Airways are already feeling the heat and have been forced to lower fares along with Malaysia Airlines.

The dominance of AirAsia will also surely have an impact on the soon to enter, Indian low cost carriers SpiceJet (this year) and IndiGo (next year).

Both SpiceJet and IndiGo will have to negotiate their international operations as if they are in a minefield with 8,000 pound gorillas on either side. To the east will be AirAsia and Tiger Airways and to the west it will be flyDubai, Air Arabia, and others.

It is a question mark whether Indian carriers, not just SpiceJet and IndiGo, have deep enough pockets and more importantly, willpower, to commence and then sustain flights in the midst of such brutal competition, but as the last year has shown, it is the low cost SpiceJet and IndiGo that have grown in leaps and bounds over their full service Indian counter-parts.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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