AirAsia's planned India venture could shape up to be among the low-cost carrier's biggest wagers.
At a recent press conference in Mumbai, AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes painted a bright future for his planned India unit, which he hopes will commence service by the end of the year.
Fernandes reportedly said that he will add 10 aircraft annually to AirAsia India, with a particular focus on serving under-utilised airports in the country.
While 10 aircraft is negligible by the standards of AirAsia's orders in recent years, allocating this number annually to the notoriously challenging Indian market would represent a major effort on AirAsia's part.
Flightglobal's Ascend Online database shows that AirAsia has firm orders for 337 Airbus A320 aircraft, with deliveries scheduled for the next 14 years out to 2026. This does not include 50 options for A320 aircraft.
These comprise 73 A320s to be delivered up until 2016, followed by 264 A320neos.
Assuming that AirAsia India is allowed to commence operations in 2013 with 10 aircraft, and 10 aircraft are added every subsequent year out to 2026, AirAsia India will have a fleet of 140 aircraft by 2026, comprising 42% of AirAsia's total orderbook.
An allocation of this size to AirAsia India would leave 197 orders for other purposes, such as replacing AirAsia's 67 aircraft in Malaysia, and additional aircraft for units such as Indonesia AirAsia, Thai AirAsia and Philippines AirAsia.
AirAsia India will need the capacity, because it will face competition from major players such as IndiGo, Air India, SpiceJet and Jet Airways on key routes from its Chennai base to major cities such New Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Pune and Kolkata.
Key domestic routes from Chennai
FlightMaps Analytics shows that the two key trunk routes out of Chennai are to New Delhi and Mumbai.
In September 2013, when AirAsia India hopes to get started - provided it receives regulatory approval - IndiGo will operate a capacity of 27,000 seats on the Chennai-New Delhi route. This is followed by Air India with 26,000 seats, SpiceJet with 20,000 seats, and Jet Airways with 14,000 seats.
Competition on the Mumbai route is equally brutal, with IndiGo and Jet Airways providing capacity of nearly 30,000 seats each for September, while Go Air, Air India and SpiceJet will provide about 40,000 seats between them.