Airline builds up 'hub' trade

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 December, 1998, 12:00am

Air Macau is feeling a little bit lonely these days, according to market development manager Dominic Ching.

With the Asian economic downturn biting deep into their profits, airlines are seeking to reduce costs by cutting back on non- core routes.

This has seen carriers such as Malaysian Airlines Systems, TAP, the state-run Portuguese airline, and Korean Air pull out of Macau.

For Mr Ching, this is an unwelcome development. While this leaves Air Macau lording it over an increasing number of services, the airline feels greater choice of flights will benefit everyone.

'Macau is a very small economy with a population of less than 500,000,' Mr Ching said. 'So we are relying on sixth-freedom traffic.' The airline hopes to benefit from providing connecting services to long-haul passengers arriving on other carriers and by providing its own long-haul flights using Macau as its hub.

Much of the growth for smaller airlines, such as Air Macau, depends on their ability to enhance the customer choice of bigger international carriers.

With this aim in mind, and aided by Macau's liberalised aviation environment, the carrier has signed 65 agreements with international airlines and 33 air ticket pricing agreements.

The latter enables Air Macau passengers to book through-flights to international destinations on one ticket. For example, the airline's deals with Thai Airways and Germany's Lufthansa enable passengers boarding at Macau to connect with these airlines' flights in Bangkok for onward travel to many European destinations.

On the other hand, the airline offers a comprehensive service of flights to regional destinations, enabling travellers with international carriers to use Macau as their gateway into mainland China and Taiwan, as well as other regional centres.

The airline now has 97 weekly services to 14 destinations, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Nanjing, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Bangkok and Manila.

It recently expanded its regional selection by adding Ningbo and two Hainan destinations - Sanya and Haikou.

Mr Ching said the formula appeared to be working. 'We have been operating quite well over the past three years. Passengers have increased. Our orientation is more on passengers but cargo is also growing very well,' he said.

The airline is studying the feasibility of setting up a separate cargo unit.

In 1996, Macau Air carried 664,458 passengers. That figure is expected to hit 1.11 million this year.