Low-cost carriers in South-East Asia are racing to expand their fleets to keep up with surging demand and intensifying competition.

Indonesia's Lion Air says it has leased five Boeing MD-90s to support expansion of its fledgling international network. The carrier, which operates 19 MD-82s and two Boeing 737-400s, will add its first MD-90 in December and immediately launch charter services to South Korea followed by scheduled flights on 12 January.

Lion is planning to launch early next year services to Guangzhou in China, Hong Kong, Perth in Australia and, pending regulatory approval, several cities in India using the newly acquired MD-90s. Lion has also leased 10 additional 737-400s and is looking to lease 15 more MD-82s or 737-400s by mid- 2005. Its Wings Air subsidiary is seeking to triple its Bombardier Dash 8 fleet next year from three to nine aircraft. Indonesian rival Adam Air says it is planning to double its fleet from three to six Boeing 737s by year-end.

Thai Airways low-cost affiliate Nok Air also is preparing to double the fleet it wet-leases from Thai. Nok, which launched domestic services in July with two 737-300s and added a third last month, will take three more -300s in the first quarter of 2005.

"We've only been flying four to five months and our load factors are up to 90-100% on every single route," chief executive Patee Sarasin told last month's Asia-Pacific Regional Aviation conference in Bangkok. "Next year we're going to fly international."

Meanwhile, Nepal's Cosmic Air has taken delivery of its first jet, a Fokker 100. Cosmic began using the aircraft in late October to replace Saab 340s on four domestic routes and will launch international services to India later this month after a second Fokker 100 arrives. Another two Fokker 100s are planned for early next year to support further international expansion.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, however, GMG Airlines has put back plans to add Fokker 100s because of delays in securing international rights. GMG still hopes to lease two Fokker 100s in mid-2005 if it can secure rights to serve Nepal and Sri Lanka. It also seeks rights to fly to New Delhi as an outgrowth of its new Kolkota service, now operated with one of its three Dash 8s.



Source: Flight International