Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Lion Air to fly to Vietnam next month

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Singapore

Indonesia-based, no-frills airline Lion Air will begin flying to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam five times per week, beginning in December, company president Rusdi Kirana said.

"It will be an extension of our newly launched Jakarta- Singapore route," he told reporters late on Tuesday.

He said that the airline was interested in serving the Singapore-Ho Chi Minh City route because it was very lucrative as increasing number of Americans and Europeans were visiting Vietnam.

"Americans are going there mostly for business, while Europeans, mostly French, are traveling as there are still links to its colonial past," he said.

The rising number of people visiting Vietnam has been mainly caused by growing attractiveness of the country as an investment destination.

According to Rusdi, passengers would likely be willing to pay US$250 (round trip) for the 90-minute trip between Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. In comparison, the four-hour Jakarta-Hong Kong trip can be purchased for around $220.

"If people are willing to pay twice for half the distance, there must be something attractive about the route, something positive," he said.

He added that the upcoming South East Asian Games in Vietnam was another attraction for the new route.

Lion Air launched on Tuesday a low-cost service to neighboring Singapore.

Rusdi said that next year, Lion Air will open more new routes to foreign countries in a bid to grab more international passengers.

"In 2004, Lion Air will begin new routes from Medan to Chennai (formerly Madras), Calcutta and Mumbai in India. For these routes we are expecting passengers from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore," he said.

He added that a route to Guangzhou in China will also begin next year.

Lion Air was established in 2000. At the moment, the airline has 33 aircraft and plans to procure 15 more next year.

AirAsia to enter RI next year

Malaysian no-frill airline, AirAsia, is planning to fly the Indonesian skies next year, company CEO Tony Fernandez said.

"I definitely believe we'll come in in 2004 as many areas are underserved in Indonesia," he told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the 2003 Asia-Pacific Regional Aviation conference in Singapore.

Fernandez said many cities in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java had a lack of available flights. He said that AirAsia planned to focus first on Java and Sumatra in the initial stage.

"We would love to fly to Bandung, Surabaya and Yogyakarta ... Bandung is a city of grace, very beautiful and fabulous," he said.

Another target destination is Padang in West Sumatra as many Malaysians often visit that city.

"We'll use Boeing 747 aircraft for our flights to Indonesia," he said. -- JP