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Philippines AirAsia to focus on domestic market post-COVID-19

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Aviation Updates Philippines – The Philippine unit of ASEAN's largest low-cost carrier, Philippines AirAsia, plans to resume vital operations mid-May, subject to the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine in Manila.
An AirAsia Airbus A320 arriving

In an exclusive interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel, Philippines AirAsia Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Isla said the airline will initially resume 23 percent of its flight operations. 

"We are going to reopen on May 15, and that's going to be a total of six aircraft. We will concentrate on domestic flights. That only assumes, conservatively, about 23 percent of our usual 4,000 flights. But this time, we are going to only fly in and out about 23 percent of our flights," he told ANC.

In the next two months, AirAsia eyes to launch flights to Zamboanga, General Santos, and Dumaguete. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the low-cost carrier opened reservations for the launching of flights from Clark and Cebu to General Santos and Zamboanga. However, these did not push through because of the Metro Manila lockdown.

Before the year ends, Philippines AirAsia intends to establish new air links to five destinations in the Philippines as it refocuses on strengthening its foothold in the domestic market. The airline will prioritize the domestic market for now, compared to its mostly international focus in the previous years.

Meanwhile, for its international flights, Isla said it may resume "...once we are going to get a good feel of the domestic market on the first month in May."

Starting June, AirAsia will then increase the number of aircraft in operation to nine from six the previous month. Presently, AirAsia has 24 Airbus A320-216 aircraft on its fleet, 23 of which are currently grounded while three are used for cargo and repatriation flights.

Interestingly, the airline's chief also mentioned about the establishment of "small hubs" around the Philippines. Isla shared his plans to establish hubs, not only in Clark, Manila, Cebu, and Davao but also in Puerto Princesa and Panglao. "In these sub-hubs, we will make sure that they will have the consistent service of AirAsia, and the sustainability will be felt by all our passengers."

For its future flights, AirAsia will ensure that its crew would wear personal protective equipment. Rigorous cleaning will also be done to their aircraft every day, which usually lasts for two hours, according to the airline executive. Isla reassured the safety of passengers on AirAsia's flights as they continue to adhere to protocols set forth by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

While it is still exploring further options like emptying middle seats on flights, AirAsia, for now, will enforce physical distancing as much as possible. Flights, if not full, will see passengers ideally distanced to prevent any contact with fellow guests.

Right now, AirAsia is in talks with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Congress, as it tries to secure stimulus packages and government grants to help with its recovery given its current financial situation.

"April is practically zero," Isla said. The airline is carefully watching its expenses and costs as it leans to recovery once flight operations restart. AirAsia remains positive for a hopefully better fourth-quarter outlook.

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