Five low-cost carriers to watch out for

22 Aug 2012

While many airlines are foundering, many Asian low-cost carriers are expanding rapidly. They are adding routes all the time, providing travellers with new options and improved links between a wide range of regional destinations. Here is a selection of some of these budget airlines you should look out for.

Indigo Airlines

Current fleet: The airline has 57 A320-200 aircraft in operation. 

Hubs: International and domestic flights from Delhi and Mumbai, with a secondary hub for domestic flights in Chennai

Routes: Indigo operates 355 flights serving 27 cities within India, along with Bangkok, Dubai, Kathmandu, Muscat and Singapore internationally. 

Recent expansion: Started flying from Delhi to Vishakhapatam on April 4; doubled frequency of flights from Delhi to Dubai and Bangkok from August 15; linking Hyderabad and Pune since June 25, and Dubai with Indian cities of Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi from August 15 onwards.   

Aircraft orders: The carrier will take delivery of 45 new Airbus A320s between now and 2015. In 2011, it placed an order for 180 A320s. 

What it means for you: Indigo’s rapid addition of domestic routes means much easier travel between Indian cities, while its new international routes could more options for connections between the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Cebu Pacific 

Current fleet: The airline has 10 A319s, 20 A320, and 8 ATR 72-500 aircraft.

Hubs: Main hubs for international flights are Manila and Clark, secondary hubs in Cebu, Kalibo, and Davao

Routes: Cebu Pacific flies to 32 domestic destinations in the Philippines and 19 international destinations including Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh City, Busan, Seoul Incheon and major cities in mainland China. 

Recent expansion: Began flights linking Manila with Hanoi from March 17, and with Siem Reap from April 19; started flights between Kalibo and Hong Kong, as well as between Manila and Xiamen from March 23. Will start flights from Iloilo to Hong Kong, Singapore, Puerto Princesa and General Santos from November. 

Aircraft orders: Between 2012 and 2021 the airline is due to receive 21 more Airbus A320 and 30 Airbus A321neo aircraft. It has also announced the intention to deploy four Airbus A330 aircraft between 2013 to 2014 for long-haul flights.

What it means for you: Cebu Pacific’s quickly expanding number of international routes offer low-cost links to different parts of the Asian region. 


Current fleet: In 2010 the AirAsia group operated 90 aircraft, of which 86 were A320s.

Hubs: Primary hub is Kuala Lumpur, with secondary hubs in Kota Kinabalu, Penang, and Kuching. Subsidiary hubs are Bangkok (Thai AirAsia), Tokyo (AirAsia Japan), and Clark (AirAsia Philippines) 

Routes: AirAsia and subsidiaries Thai AirAsia, Indonesia AirAsia, AirAsia Philippines and AirAsia Japan fly to over 400 destinations in 25 countries. It also has a long-haul associate airline called AirAsia X.

Recent expansion: In August, subsidiary Thai AirAsia said it would start flights between Bangkok and Mandalay from October 4; AirAsia said it would introduce new flights between Kuala Lumpur and Lombok and between Wuhan and Bangkok and launched a joint venture AirAsia Japan operating flights between Tokyo Narita and Fukuoka, Okinawa and Sapporo. Previously has launched subsidiaries in Thailand, Malaysia, and the Phillipines. In July this year, Air Asia acquired Indonesian carrier Batavia Air. AirAsia X has early this year cut London, Paris, Mumbai and New Delhi services due to high fuel prices and new taxes, and has refocused on the region with new routes to China and Australia (more stories here).

Aircraft orders: AirAsia currently has outstanding orders for 286 A320 aircraft, after receiving delivery of 89 aircraft. 

What it means for you: Air Asia's continual expansion means it is providing increasingly good links all around Asia, particularly the ASEAN nations, and it increasingly offers flights to places that are not connected by many other airlines.

Lion Air

Current fleet: Lion Air operates 81 aircraft total, which includes two 747 and 64 737-900ER. 

Hub: Jakarta 

Routes: Lion air flies to more than 36 cities in Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore and Ho Chi Mihn City. 

Recent expansion: Launched flights between Surabaya and Singapore from December 16, 2011; added second daily flight between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur on December 19, 2011; launched flight between Bandung in West Java and Surabaya from June 19 this year.  

Aircraft orders: In November 2011 Lion Air hs placed an order for 201 B737 MAXs and 29 Next Generation B737-900ERs from Boeing (see story here). The aircraft are due to be delivered in 2017. 

What it means for you: Lion Air's large aircraft order indicates it plans to expand significantly, helping to provide improved links between different parts of Indonesia, one of the region's fastest growing markets.

Nok Air

Current fleet: Nok Air operates four Boeing 737-800s, nine Boeing 737-400s and two ATR-72 aircraft. 

Hubs: Bangkok Don Mueang

Routes: The airline flies to over 20 destinations around Thailand and to Vientiane in Laos. It will launch flights to Nanjing at the start of next year (see story here

Recent expansion: Launching Bangkok Don Mueang-Buri Ram service from September 2 this year; and to Chumphon from October 2; announced plans to launch international flights to Nanjing and possibly Myanmar in the early part of 2013. 

Aircraft orders: Nok Air expects to gain five single-aisle B737-800 jets and two ATR72-500 turboprops by the end of the year, but will retire some older aircraft

What it means for you: Nok Air’s decision to restart international flights is likely to provide new links between Bangkok and a lot of Asian destinations including up-and-coming ones such as Myanmar.

Nicholas Olczak

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