Macau’s fledgling aviation market is set for further growth with a deal by three parties to set up a new low-cost airline in the former Portuguese enclave.

Air Macau, China National Aviation (CNAC) and Shun Tak Holdings say that after lengthy talks – which at one point included Australia’s Virgin Blue – they have agreed to jointly establish Macau Asia Express. Initial funding will be $30 million and it will be 51%-owned by Air Macau. The remaining 49% will be held by a company 64%-owned by Shun Tak and 36%-owned by CNAC.

Macau Asia Express plans to launch in the fourth quarter of this year and “will adopt a highly competitive cost model”, offering passengers “affordable flights and travel packages”. No mention is made of the aircraft it will operate, although those close to the long-discussed project have said it will probably lease Airbus A320-family narrowbodies to maintain commonality with the fleet of Air Macau. It will serve destinations in China and other parts of Asia.

“Air Macau and Macau Asia Express will work together to enhance the overall volume of air traffic into Macau and contribute to developing Macau as a major tourist destination in Asia,” says Air Macau chairman and CNAC executive director Gu Tiefei.

Main shareholder Air Macau is itself 51%-owned by Hong Kong-listed CNAC, which is in turn controlled by Chinese flag carrier Air China. CNAC is also the biggest single shareholder in Dragonair, which is based in nearby Hong Kong. Shun Tak is controlled by casino magnate Stanley Ho, who has interests in property, shipping and tourism. TAP Portugal also has a stake in Air Macau which it is looking to sell (see related story on page 11).

Air Macau is a full-service carrier and currently the only airline based in this Special Administrative Region of China. The airline has since its establishment in the mid-1990s had a monopoly licence on air services out of Macau, which effectively means it needs to give its approval for any new carrier that wants to be based there.

Macau Asia Express is now one of three new airlines being prepared for launch in Macau, where the tourism market is being set up for major expansion through the establishment of many new casinos.

The other start-up carriers are Viva Macau, which plans to operate widebody aircraft from the middle of this year, and Golden Dragon, which plans to operate regional jets from late this year or next year. ■


Source: Airline Business