AirAsia joins Japanese budget airline battle

AirAsia joins Japanese budget airline battle

The low-cost sector heats up as Japan's latest cheap flier enters the fray
AirAsia Japan
Wai? Japan’s budget airline industry is suddenly blooming on previously barren turf.

With an inaugural flight from Narita to Fukuoka, AirAsia Japan took to the skies above Tokyo on August 1, becoming the third new budget airline of 2012 to challenge Japan’s heavyweight players.

AirAsia Japan CEO Kazuyuki Iwaya is promising fares costing less than half those of JAL and ANA, the longtime go-to carriers for most travelers in Japan.

Initial routes connecting Tokyo with Fukuoka, Naha in Okinawa and Sapporo in Hokkaido are set to be joined by two South-Korean routes later this year and more domestic services in 2013.

Iwaya laid out his vision for AirAsia’s prospective customers at the Narita launch on Wednesday.

“We want to create demand for flying that didn’t exist before,” he said.

“We want to change Japan’s skies so people can catch a flight like taking a bus to go and get lunch.”

Who’s who?

The new operator is the third budget carrier to enter the increasingly crowded Japan market this year alone. Jetstar Japan started services in July and Peach made its debut in March.

As ever in the complex world of budget airlines, nothing is simple -- Japan’s No. 2 carrier, ANA, holds a stake in both Peach and the new AirAsia arm, while JAL has an interest in Jetstar Japan.

For passengers choosing AirAsia, a one-way trip from Narita to Fukoka currently starts at ¥5,180 (US$68), while Sapporo flights come in even cheaper at around ¥4,580.

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