The Asian economic crisis may have thrown the entire region into turmoil, but differing attitudes among Asian startups illustrate how misfortunes vary between countries.

Harlequin Air, a new affiliate of Japan Air System, is confident that while Japan may have economic worries, its citizens still have disposable income. Harlequin is focusing on outbound tourism, launching DC-10 charters in December from its Fukuoka base to Australia. From mid-February Harlequin planned to fly charters to Hawaii and then to Bali, Kathmandu, and other tourist spots.

At the other end of the scale is Air Philippines, which has shelved international growth so it can 'ride out this turmoil', says CEO Augustus Paiso. Air Philippines won international authority last June and had planned to buy six Boeing 737-200s from United Airlines this year to launch routes to other parts of Asia. But the two year old carrier is now to acquire only three 737s and stick to domestic routes. Paiso cites two reasons for slowing the airline's growth - first, the likely effect of the devalued Philippine peso on profit forecasts for its proposed regional routes, and second, the higher cost of imported spare parts due to that devaluation.

Between the Japanese and Philippine examples is Astro Airlines, a Taiwanese startup and subsidiary of U-Land Airlines. At presstime Astro was set to launch scheduled services using MD-80s from Kaohsiung to three cities in the Philippines. The new Taiwan dollar remains strong against the Philippine peso, which creates opportunities for outbound tourism and inbound business for Astro to exploit.

David Knibb

Source: Airline Business