AirAsia eyes Australian expansion in Paris

AirAsia is promising more space, quieter cabins and extra bag storage aboard its new aircraft.
AirAsia is promising more space, quieter cabins and extra bag storage aboard its new aircraft.

A low-cost airline is eyeing an Australian expansion on the wings of a new fleet of planes.

AirAsia has unveiled the first of its new long-haul fleet at the world's biggest air show in Paris.

As thundering fighter jets twisted and turned through the French summer sky above, industry insiders and international media gathered at ground level for their first glimpse inside the passenger plane.

The cut-price carrier is promising its customers more personal space, quieter cabins and extra bag storage aboard the new wide-bodied aircraft.

Mood lighting, individual power points and ergonomic chairs are also being thrown in the mix.

But the real selling point is the jet's fuel efficiency, allowing it to travel far further for less.

AirAsia is now targeting key destinations - including Australia, South Korea and Japan - as it looks to grow its global footprint.

The first of its Airbus A330neo jets will begin flying from Thailand next month, with direct links between Bangkok and Brisbane.

Another will come onboard in August.

AirAsia X chief executive Nadda Buranasiri said the airline would use the Queensland experiment to test the strength of the Australian market.

"I think it would a good start for us to understand the market, to understand the passengers, and then we will grow from there," he told AAP in Paris on Monday.

"We need to be sure that when we go in, the market will grow, so right now I can't tell you which the next destination will be."

AirAsia already operates about 60 flights in and out of Australia each week.

Mr Buranasiri expects the new planes to operate between Thailand and two or three more Australian cities.

Cheaper fuel costs mean direct flights into Europe and the US are also back on the cards, after AirAsia scrapped its London and Paris services in 2012.

The airline gives its new routes just one year to prove their worth.

"If within a year it continues to strengthen we will continue," its chairwoman Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz told AAP.

"But our strategy has always been if within a year we cannot meet all the expectations, because it's not an efficient route for us, we will discontinue.

"We're a very practical people, we cannot go on just to service as a charity, you know what I mean?"

AirAsia currently operates 36 A330s.

It has ordered 66 of the next generation aircraft, with another two on lease, to be folded into its existing fleet over the next few years.

The planes have been configured with 12 premium flatbeds and 377 standard seats, and have a range of 12,130km.

* Reporter travelled to International Paris Air Show courtesy of AirAsia.

Australian Associated Press