Flights to Paradise

New airline, Air Paradise, launches service to Bali from Australia; other regional carriers also expanding

By: Susan Cunningham

Air travel in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand has captured the region’s headlines in recent months.

Bali has been quiet, since a terrorist bombing last October killed more than 200 people. Yet the Balinese are optimistic that tourists are about to flood back.

At least Balinese businessman Kadek Wiranatha thinks so.

In February, he launched Bali’s first airline, Air Paradise, with flights three times a week from Denpasar to Melbourne, four times a week to Perth and three times a week to Jakarta.

He plans to add service to Sydney and Seoul in June. The three-flights-a-week to Sydney will coincide with the beginning of the Australian winter, usually a high season for Bali.

Unlike U.S. airlines, Air Paradise says on its Web site: “Tickets available from your preferred travel agent;” and that full meals are served to all travelers.

Air Paradise no ties to Paradise Air in Florida is using an Airbus A310, leased from Singapore Airlines, which offers 12 seats in business class and 171 in economy coach. A second leased plane is almost ready for delivery.

AirAsia Success

The runaway success of Malaysia’s AirAsia, the continent’s first cut-rate, frill-free airline, has upset the conventional mores that air travel is an exclusive, luxurious experience, reserved for the wealthy.

In the last year, AirAsia, which has modeled itself on Southwest Airlines, Ryanair and Virgin Blue, has moved from the brink of insolvency to its current position as the Asian travel story of 2002.

In April, the privately owned carrier will begin flights twice a day between Kuala Lumpur and two towns In Borneo: Sandakan in Sabah State and Sibu in Sarawak State. The addition will bring its total destinations to 14, all within Malaysia.

Probably the most popular destinations for foreign visitors are Kuching, Langkawi Island and Penang.

As an example of AirAsia’s low rates, the 178-mile one-way trip between Kuala Lumpur and Penang can cost as little as $10.

Tune Air, a Malaysian carrier, took over the struggling airline in December 2001 and introduced the new strategy, a month later. By the end of 2002, AirAsia was fending off suitors who wanted long-haul partnerships or ventures in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In light of AirAsia’s success, Singapore Airlines now says that it may consider launching a no-frills service on SilkAir, its regional wing.

Thai Protest

In an unusual protest, 38 Thai Airways pilots have refused to fly to three provincial airports, citing safety risks. They were promptly suspended by the government-owned airline, but their actions seem to be having an impact. The government now says that, among other things, it will extend the runway at Krabi, a four-year-old airport that serves west-coast beaches.

In the meantime, Phuket Airlines, a small private carrier, is serving the three airports, during daylight hours.

Thai discounts

Thai Airways is trying to boost its first- and business-class occupancy with two special discounts. A 37 percent discount is offered on any single first- or business-class seat, booked before the end of October.

It also has a “buy one, get one free” deal, available on its first- and business-class seats on its Bangkok-Tokyo-San Francisco flights.