ANALYSIS: AirAsia X, Scoot gird up for the long run

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Malaysia's AirAsia X and Singapore's Scoot are set to ratchet up competition on key routes from their bases of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Although the two long-haul low-cost players operate modest fleets by the standards of their parent carriers - Scoot operates five Boeing 777-200ERs and AirAsia X 11 Airbus A330-300s - Flightglobal's Ascend database indicates that in the next seven years the pair will take delivery of 47 new aircraft.

By 2017, Scoot's fleet is likely to comprise 10 787-8s and 10 787-9s. Although it has not announced details of the 777-200ER retirement, these former Singapore Airlines aircraft were delivered in the late 1990s and are entering the twilight of their service lives.

AirAsia X, meanwhile, will receive 17 additional A330-300s by 2015, bringing its fleet to 28 aircraft. At this point a three year delivery hiatus will ensue. Following that, between 2018 and 2020, it will receive 10 A350-900s.

Although based in separate cities, AirAsia X and Scoot look destined to become powerful rivals.

In 2012, a well placed industry observer told Flightglobal Pro that SIA established Scoot to counter AirAsia's apparent poaching of Singapore passengers bound for Australia and North Asia. Passengers would board an AirAsia flight in Singapore for the 45 minute flight to Kuala Lumpur, where they would transfer to AirAsia X.

According to Innovata FlightMaps Analytics, in May 2013, AirAsia operated 73,000 seats monthly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, while Scoot's interline partner Tiger Airways operated 22,000 seats.

This capacity is key to providing feed for the rivals' North Asia and Australian destinations, where Innovata FlightMaps Analytics show there is a good deal of overlap on the carriers' route networks.

Scoot, AirAsia X route map

Source: Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

Both carriers serve the Australian destinations of Gold Coast and Sydney, with Scoot providing 8,100 seats on the Singapore-Gold Coast route in May 2013, and AirAsia X 8,316 seats. On their Sydney routes, Scoot operated 8,100 seats in May 2013, while AirAsia X provided 12,000 seats.

The major Australian destinations to which Scoot has no flights are Perth and Melbourne. Perth is already served by Scoot's sister carrier in the SIA Group, Tiger Airways, which provided 5,580 seats on Singapore-Perth in May 2013, compared with 14,000 for AirAsia X.

On Kuala Lumpur-Melbourne, AirAsia X provided 15,000 seats in May 2013, while Jetstar provided 6,969 seats. The SIA group has no low cost solution for the Singapore-Melbourne route, although SIA itself provides 33,000 premium seats monthly.

Melbourne is an obvious destination for Scoot when its fleet grows, but the situation underscores the conundrum facing SIA's multi-brand strategy, in which adding low cost capacity on a route could cannibalise the premium brand.

In North Asia, both carriers serve Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. Scoot has yet to compete with AirAsia X for destinations such as Beijing and Shanghai, two important routes for the mainline SIA brand, and Chengdu, which is served by SIA unit Silkair.