Jetstar Asia, the new Singapore-based associate of Qantas Airways, is taking a different approach from most low-cost competitors with its longer flight times.

Jetstar Asia started operating on 13 December with services to Hong Kong, which is around 3h 30min from Singapore. In announcing its aggressive start-up plan early in December, italso said it would fly to cities more than 4h from Singapore, such as Shanghai and Taipei.

Other planned destinations include Manila in the Philippines - which like Hong Kong is around 3h 30min from Singapore - Jakarta and Surabaya in Indonesia, plus Pattaya in Thailand, which are all closer to Singapore.

Jetstar Asia, which is 49.9% owned by Australia's Qantas and majority owned by three local partners, says it will be "servicing a combination of business, leisure and new markets" within 5h flying time of Singapore. Flights to three of its seven destinations were to have been launched before the end of December, with the remaining four "coming on line in rapid succession from January".

Chief operating officer Con Korfiatis says: "This is just the beginning, but it's also indicative of the types of destinations we'll be flying to; some expected, some not so expected."

Jetstar Asia launched services with three leased Airbus A320s in all-economy configurations. While it is a no-frills carrier offering food and beverages for sale, it is adopting an assigned-seating practice, unlike other low-cost airlines. It will also have a slightly greater baggage allowance than some of its competitors, at 20kg (44lb) per person.

"We have said from the beginning that our success will depend on our ability to grow the market, and by becoming the first low-cost carrier to serve several major population centres that support millions of people, as well as opening new routes, we're doing just that: making air travel more accessible and more affordable to more people," says Korfiatis.

Jetstar Asia plans to grow its A320 fleet to eight aircraft in 2005 and have more than 20 aircraft over the next few years. It is the third new airline to launch services from Singapore in 2005, the others being independently owned Valuair and Singapore Airlines' associate carrier Tiger Airways.

Tiger, which is also a no-frills carrier, says it will serve destinations up to 4h from Singapore, but so far it is operating only to three points in Thailand that are much closer to its base. Valuair is operating longer sectors, to Hong Kong and to Perth in Australia, but it is not considered by most to be a true low-cost carrier, partly because it provides free meals and other amenities on board.

Nicholas Ionides Singapore

Source: Airline Business