AirAsia plans to reopen hub at Clark

AirAsia is planning to reestablish a hub at Clark airport as Clark benefits from surging local demand and congestion at nearby Manila.


Summary

  • Philippines AirAsia is pursuing expansion at Clark and plans to eventually reopen a hub at the airport;
  • The airline was initially based at Clark but suspended all services at the airport from late 2013 to early 2017;
  • Clark handled a record 1.5 million passengers in 2017 and expects to handle 2 million passengers in 2018;
  • Expansion at Philippine Airlines and foreign airlines are also growth drivers at Clark.

The CEO of Philippines AirAsia (PAA), Dexter Comendador, recently stated the airline plans to open hubs at Clark and other secondary airports as part of a plan to focus on growth outside Manila. Clark is located 100km from Manila and for several years has tried to position itself as an alternative airport for the Manila market.

PAA launched in early 2012 and initially operated entirely from Clark. However, in late 2013 PAA closed the Clark base and stopped all flights from Clark. PAA shifted focus to Manila, using slots acquired in its merger with Zest Airways.

PAA resumed flights from Clark in Mar-2017 and currently operates domestic flights from Clark to Davao, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Tacloban. The Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Tacloban routes were all launched in Feb-2018.

PAA is launching four weekly flights from Clark to Cebu on 11-May-2018. It also plans to resume international flights at Clark on 12-Jul-2018 with the launch of three weekly flights from Clark to Taipei.

Clark traffic increased by 59% in 2017 to 1.5 million passengers, driven partially by PAA’s resumption but primarily by expansion at Philippine Airlines/PAL Express. Philippine Airlines is now the largest airline group at Clark, operating 13 domestic and one international route.

Clark traffic previously peaked at 1.3 million passengers in 2012, when PAA was the market leader. Clark expects it will reach 2 million passengers for the first time in 2018, driven by expansion by both local and foreign airlines.

Seven foreign airlines currently serve Clark. Jetstar Asia is the latest new entrant, initially launching three weekly flights to Singapore in Nov-2017. In Mar-2018, Jetstar Asia nearly tripled capacity at Clark as it increased Clark-Singapore to five weekly flights and launched three weekly sixth freedom frequencies from Clark to Osaka.

Jetstar Asia is now the fourth largest airline in Clark’s international market after Cebu Pacific, Korean LCC Jin Air and Qatar Airways. The Cebu Pacific Group currently has four international routes from Clark but only one domestic route.

Clark is a spacious government-owned airport with two 3200m runways. A new terminal is now under construction to boost capacity by eight million passengers per annum.

While the airport has tried over the years to attract passengers heading to or from central Manila, highway congestion and the lack of a rail connection have generally dissuaded Manila residents from using the airport. Clark is now starting to attract some Manila passengers and the airport will clearly benefit from continued congestion at Manila, which has higher fees and therefore generally higher fares than Clark. However, Clark’s growth is also being driven by surging demand for traffic to and from Luzon province.

Clark has a relatively large catchment area, encompassing several small cities in northern Philippines. Local demand in Luzon has increased, driven by economic growth and expansion of the Luzon middle class population. As Clark’s network and portfolio of airlines has grown, more Luzon province residents and visitors are able to use Clark rather than trek into Manila.