Low-cost, long-haul airline Air Asia X is to launch non-stop service between Kuala Lumpur and Christchurch, the biggest city in the South Island of...

Low-cost, long-haul airline Air Asia X is to launch non-stop service between Kuala Lumpur and Christchurch, the biggest city in the South Island of New Zealand.

A team representing Christchurch and New Zealand finalised a deal with Air Asia X, which the team says is the world’s fastest-growing low cost carrier, to bring long-haul flights direct from Kuala Lumpur to Christchurch. Christchurch will be the airline’s first destination in New Zealand.

The Christchurch/New Zealand group met with the owner of Air Asia X, Tony Fernandes, and his executive team to sign a deal that will see a new airline operating to Christchurch and offering exceptionally low long-haul fares. Details of the deal will be released in the coming weeks, according to Christchurch International Airport (CIAL, IATA code CHC).

“CIAL has been developing this opportunity over the past two years and is ecstatic that this service has now been approved,” says Jim Boult, CEO of Christchurch International Airport. “It’s the fruition of an amazing group effort and the impact of the fabulous experiences available in the South Island. The fact that we had such a strong team, including the Mayor and Mayoress of Christchurch and the head of Tourism New Zealand, showed Air Asia X how committed we are to this partnership.”

“This is fantastic news for Christchurch, in terms of travel and tourism,” says Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker. “We are looking at up to 70,000 more visitors a year, bringing in an estimated NZ$70 million more to the region and creating hundreds of new jobs. Having this new airline truly positions Christchurch as New Zealand’s tourism hub.”

Long-haul, low-cost carrier AirAsia X has signed a firm contract for 10 Airbus A350-900s to be used on its network linking Kuala Lumpur with destinations worldwide. Air Asia X also has ordered 25 A330-300s (of which eight were in service by October 2010) and operates two A340-300s

Azran Osman-Rani, Chief Executive of Air Asia X, says the choice of Christchurch as its first New Zealand destination reflects the city’s destinational appeal. “Christchurch Airport put up a great business case for why we should come south,” says Osman-Rani. “We were impressed with the potential and the quality of tourism experiences available in the South Island.”

Based in Malaysia, Air Asia X and its parent company Air Asia have a network of 130 routes covering 75 destinations.

Gareth Owen, CIAL’s general manager marketing and business Ddvelopment, said that at the beginning of the year three Air Asia X executives came to New Zealand to investigate the market. “We took them on a whirlwind tour of the South Island that included classic experiences like white-water rafting, bungy jumping, climbing glaciers at Mt Cook, and riding on the Shotover Jet,” says Owen. “We were overwhelmed with support from regional tourism offices, tourism operators, local government and the whole CIAL team, ensuring every aspect of the visit went smoothly.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that the South Island of New Zealand is becoming a special destination in its own right. I think we will see more airlines such as Air Asia X bringing people in direct through the Christchurch International Airport gateway,” says David Mackenzie, chairman of the board of CIAL.

Since being launched in 2007, Air Asia X has undergone rapid expansion, adding new routes each year.

Air Asia X has eight A330-300s and two A340-300s in service and 17 more A330-300s on order, as well as 10 A350-900s.

“The additional Air Asia X flights also give Christchurch and South Island residents more travel opportunities to different parts of the world. We can expect many people to travel down from Auckland and Wellington to take advantage of these flights,” says Boult. “It’s a win-win scenario. The team at Christchurch Airport is committed to this partnership with Air Asia X, and we look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.”

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