Air Asia, the region's dominant low-cost airline, will begin flying to Shenzhen early next year as the company looks to capture more of south China's budget travel market, including Hong Kong. Chief executive Tony Fernandes said he would start flights to Shenzhen Baoan International Airport from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur as soon as he had enough aircraft. The mainland airport is about 30km northwest of Hong Kong. 'Macau has been a great inroad for Guangzhou, but it hasn't really worked for Hong Kong. Shenzhen, however, is not cornered by the sea,' Mr Fernandes said. Air Asia, which may soon announce a more than 75 per cent increase in full-year net profit, is seeking to attract more passengers from Hong Kong after starting flights from Macau in June 2004 when talks with the Airport Authority Hong Kong broke down. 'We haven't really had the budget to promote the Macau alternative in Hong Kong. I don't think there is awareness there, yet,' Mr Fernandes said. The carrier gets half its business from the Guangzhou catchment area neighbouring Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen with six flights a day. The new destination will be the carrier's second in the mainland, after Xiamen, having been formally awarded the rights for scheduled flights to both cities in July. 'Shenzhen is a very aggressive airport and the market has huge potential. But we are short of planes, so I can't give you a firm date right now,' Mr Fernandes said on the sidelines of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation conference yesterday. 'We are looking at early next year, probably March. We would love to do more in China and we are hoping Airbus will give us more planes as quickly as possible.' Air Asia, which in July expanded a December 2004 order of A320 aircraft to 100 units plus options for 30, is close to securing a deal for an additional 60 aircraft of the same type. Mr Fernandez said he had no intention in the short term of trying to rekindle talks with the airport authority about starting services to Hong Kong. 'Hong Kong is a non-starter. Those guys are asleep. They are only interested in Cathay Pacific,' he said. 'One day Hong Kong will realise that it needs to be in this market. You've got an asset [the airport]; you've spent billions. Why not maximize that asset?' Air Asia, which will move 9.3 million travellers this year, expects that number to jump to 16 million next year as the low-cost phenomenon gathers pace in Asia. That will put it in a league with Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines in terms of passengers carried. Air Asia is expected to announce in the next few days net profit of M$200 million (HK$429 million) for the 12 months to June 30, compared with M$112 million a year earlier, according to the source.