AirAsia X, the offshoot of Asia’s leading low-cost carrier, is starting low-cost, long-haul flights between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region with the launch in March of services between London Stansted and Kuala Lumpur.

The flights, which are aimed at undercutting the fares of existing full-service network carriers by 40 to 50 per cent, were announced on Tuesday with lead-in fares of £99 ($151) one way including taxes and charges. Average fares are expected to be about £150 one way.

Tony Fernandes, chief executive and founder of AirAsia, the Malaysian pioneer of the low-cost airline business model in Asia, said the long-haul, low-cost services would “revolutionise” air travel between Europe and Asia. Around 20 per cent of seats would be offered at the lowest prices.

By launching between Stansted and Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia X will connect two of the biggest centres for low-cost flights in Europe and Asia, offering substantial onward budget airline networks to passengers seeking to travel on to other points in each region.

It will also offer fresh low-fare competition on the highly contested routes between London and Australia, which traditionally connect through Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong and more recently through the Gulf hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. AirAsia X is seeking to be the world’s first successful low cost and low fare, long-haul scheduled carrier in the wake of many previous failed initiatives.

It follows ill-fated transatlantic ventures such as Freddie Laker’s Skytrain and Peoplexpress of the US 30 years ago. Recent start-up carriers Oasis Hong Kong Airlines, which launched in October 2006 between Hong Kong and London Gatwick and Zoom Airlines, which started in June 2007 between Gatwick and New York, both collapsed this year.

AirAsia X, in which Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group holds a 16 per cent stake, began flying in November 2007 between Kuala Lumpur and Australia’s Gold Coast. It added its first route to China to Hangzhou in February and in recent weeks began services from Kuala Lumpur to Perth and Melbourne.

The core of the network is planned to be flights averaging around seven hours from Kuala Lumpur to destinations in China, India, the Middle East, Australia and Japan. New routes planned for 2009 include Amritsar in India and Tianjin in China as well as London Stansted.

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