Malaysia Airlines' Budget Offshoot Begins Service

Low-cost carrier Firefly, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, started commercial operations Tuesday, flying its first passengers out of the island resort of Penang, officials said.

Firefly, Malaysia's second low-cost airline after AirAsia, will use two 50-seater Fokker Friendship aircraft.

Initially, the airline will fly from its base in Penang to the Malaysian cities of Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu, Kuantan and Langkawi. From April 13, the airline will also fly daily to the Thai resort islands of Phuket and Koh Samui.

"We will take this step by step," Firefly chief executive Eddy Leong told The Associated Press by phone. "Signs are it's very successful."

The airline has offered 2,000 free one-way tickets, and more may be handed out if there is demand, Leong said. Passengers have to pay taxes and surcharges.

Normal ticket prices start from 9 ringgit (US$2.60, euro1.95) for national flights and from 39 ringgit (US$10.40, euro7.80) to Thailand.

Firefly's online booking will start from mid-May, Leong said. Until then, a call center and Malaysia Airlines ticketing offices will handle all bookings.

Firefly is a wholly-owned subsidiary of national carrier Malaysian Airline System Bhd., which has been struggling to make profits while competing with AirAsia for short-haul regional routes.

Firefly is managed separately from MAS, which is in the middle of a restructuring plan that is expected to help it return to profitability this year.

AirAsia, which started in late 2001 and revolutionized air travel in Southeast Asia, services some 15 destinations in Malaysia and about 20 in the region, according to the company's Web site.

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