Malaysia's AirAsia X eyes virtual Middle East hub

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Malaysian long-haul low-cost airline AirAsia X plans to set up a "virtual" hub in the Middle East as part of its expansion plan.

The carrier is receiving three Airbus A330s before year-end, but it has not received permission from the Malaysian authorities to commence flights to Sydney in Australia and the South Korean capital Seoul. It is therefore eyeing new routes and increasing the frequency on existing ones as well, says CEO Azran Osman-Rani.

"We do not want to lose the momentum we have created in the 20 months since we began operations, and that is why we are looking at these option," adds Azran.

Abu Dhabi and Bahrain are two possible sites for the virtual hub, where the airline will not base aircraft but use as a base from which to fly on to other destinations in the Middle East, Africa or Europe. A decision could be made in a few weeks, he says.

The airline also hopes to add another destination in China and its first in the Middle East before end-2009. Azran says that AirAsia X is also looking to set up another virtual hub in Australia or New Zealand, although that is still at the early stages.

From Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia X flies to the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Perth in Australia, Tianjin and Hangzhou in China, Taiwan's capital Taipei and London. It could increase the frequency on most of those flights, says Azran.

In 2010, the carrier plans to fly to more destinations in China and begin flights to India. It is also keen to fly to New York.

AirAsia X has 23 A330-300s and 10 Airbus A350s on order.