It was envisioned to be the "future" of long-haul air travel. Many low cost carriers have attempted to set forth and go the longer miles but have folded those routes eventually. So we now wonder if long-haul low-cost will be the thing of the future. Just recently, AirAsia X announced that it wants to fly California via Japan. The same airline though folded up their London and Paris flights.
Last 2018, FlightGlobal wrote an analysis on airlines that have gone the long-haul low-cost direction and here, we look at some of these, particularly AirAsia X, Cebu Pacific, Lion Air, Scoot, and Jet Star.
Routes with sector length of more than 4,000km: 16
Routes with sector length of less than 4,000km: 14
Aircraft on sector lengths of more than 4,000km: Airbus A330-300
Longest flight by distance: Osaka-Kansai to Honolulu (6,624km)
AirAsia X Group co-chief executive Tony Fernandes recently told FlightGlobal that true long-haul low-cost services were not on the carrier's radar.
"We are pioneers in the long-haul low-cost market, but the reality of the model is medium-haul routes of six to eight hours – that is the sweet spot," he said.
Fernandes also noted that AirAsia X's strategy was focused on "high frequency, country dominance" routes that have connection options with sister carrier AirAsia.
He doubts the viability of most long-haul point-to-point markets, arguing that network carriers have much of the market sown up through their hubs.
That all but rules out any European routes for AirAsia X.
Earlier this year, however, Fernandes reiterated the operator's plans to start flights to the west coast of the USA via Japan after it receives its first Airbus A330neos in late 2019.
AirAsia X reported a deeper operating loss of MYR96 million ($23.3 million) for the second quarter of this year, compared with MYR12.8 million in the same period of 2017.
The carrier attributed the poorer results to a "higher operating cost" environment
Routes with sector length of more than 4,000km: 3
Routes with sector length of less than 4,000km: 76
Aircraft used on sector lengths of more than 4,000km: Airbus A330
Longest flight by distance: Manila to Dubai (6,915km)
The Philippine low-cost carrier has significantly reduced its long-haul presence in recent years. In the middle of last year, for example, it cut routes to Doha, Riyadh and Kuwait. Just before those cancellations, Cebu chief executive Lance Gokongwei told FlightGlobal that Middle East competition had become "quite a bloodbath" as Gulf carriers and Philippine Airlines competed for its customers.
Towards the end of 2017, Cebu said it needed to "rethink" its long-haul strategy and focus on meeting existing demand for regional and domestic flights.
Earlier this year it suggested that "our international growth strategy going forward is to connect secondary Philippine cities to international destinations", but few hard details have been forthcoming.
The carrier has previously cited the large concentration of Filipino workers overseas as potentially creating long-haul point-to-point markets.
But rising fuel prices and a weaker second-quarter performance are unlikely to prompt any significant long-haul moves.
Routes with sector length of more than 4,000km: 15
Routes with sector length of less than 4,000km: 172
Aircraft deployed on sector lengths of more than 4,000km: Boeing 787-8
Longest flight by distance: Melbourne to Honolulu (8,858km)
Jetstar Group achieved a record earnings result for the year ending 30 June, although domestic operations appear to be central to this. The Qantas unit was established in 2003 in a defensive move as Virgin eyed Australian services. Long-haul routes launched in 2006, meaning its markets are much more mature than equivalents in other regions.
Jetstar appears relatively relaxed, therefore, on its long-haul ambitions.
It currently serves markets in China, Hawaii, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam using Boeing 787-8 widebodies.
Change is most likely when it receives Airbus A321neos, which are due to enter its fleet from 2020.
In announcing the delivery of the jets, Qantas said they could fly up Australia's east coast up to Denpasar, potentially allowing some of Jetstar's 11 787-8s to be deployed in other markets.
However, Jetstar Group chief executive Gareth Evans told FlightGlobal earlier this year that the main focus for the A321neos would be on the domestic network, where they are central to a replacement programme for its fleet of 52 baseline A320s and eight A321s.
Meanwhile, in June, Evans all but ruled out Jetstar services to Europe, stating: "Those sorts of distances are pretty new for low-cost European carriers, but here to Europe is a different proposition altogether. It's multi-sector, so you're going to have to stop off on the way, and that adds cost and complexity, and our business model is all about simplicity."
Aside from its main operation, Jetstar's various units are focused on short-haul markets.
Thanks to its status as a Qantas unit, Jetstar has limited use as a health indicator for the long-haul low-cost business model.
Routes with sector length of more than 4,000km: 16
Routes with sector length of less than 4,000km: 56
Aircraft on sector lengths of more than 4,000km: Airbus A320; Boeing 787-8, 787-9
Longest flight by distance: Singapore to Berlin (9,936km)
The Singapore Airlines low-cost unit saw its operating profit fall from S$3 million ($2.2 million) to S$1 million in the second quarter of 2018.
Scoot's longest route, a Singapore-Berlin service, was launched in June this year, while it also flies long-haul services to Athens, Honolulu and destinations in Australia.
Much of the budget carrier's focus in recent years has been on the integration of fellow SIA carrier Tigerair, which added a number of Airbus narrowbodies to Scoot's fleet.
Speaking to FlightGlobal in the middle of last year, Scoot chief executive Lee Lik Hsin said the carrier was focusing on improving feed between the group's narrowbody and widebody operations.
Beyond its own operations, Scoot's strategy is very closely tied to that of its parent.
In June, SIA senior vice-president of corporate planning Lee Wen Fen said of the group's network strategy: "It's really looking at various markets and saying, does this market warrant an LCC, or full service, or is the market big enough for both... and then working out amongst ourselves, co-ordinating within the group on who should fly where and how do we manage overlaps."
Contrary to the belief of many, Cebu Pacific's purchase of 16 Airbus A330-900NEO is intended to be able to increase capacity in congested airports in key destinations. The logic is simple but very smart. NAIA is not the only one congested, airports in other Asia-Pacific destinations are too. Slots may be limited and requested for more of them may be too expensive or even scarce. So instead of requesting for more slots, Cebu Pacific will increase capacity by using a single widebody aircraft instead of two narrowbodies. With a 460-seat layout, Cebu Pacific's A330-900NEO is almost double the capacity of their A321NEO. The airline recently is putting on hold its long-haul low cost plans and would rather concentrate on high RPK routes within Asia and Australia.
Long-haul low-cost is indeed a model that should be carefully studied due to the very high costs involved, particularly fuel and other expenses. Competition from legacy carriers is another thing, a sector where they dominate well. Should
AirAsia X decide to launch its planned transpacific flights, this would be something to watch out, definitely a make or break thing for the long-haul low cost market.
Read the complete analysis and write-up of FlightGlobal on long-haul low-cost travels here.