Hanoi-based low-cost carrier VietJet (Source: VNA)
London (VNA) - The new Filipino and Vietnamese middle class are flying in ever-greater numbers within Southeast Asia as they capitalise on low fuel prices and budget airlines, according to the most recent survey by FT Confidential Research, a unit of the Financial Times.

The survey, which was conducted among 3,000 consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, reveals that the number of Filipinos who fly in the region rose from 63.5 percent in 2013, to 77 percent in 2015.

The number of Vietnamese who fly increased from 62.3 percent to 68.2 percent over the past three years.

In contrast, the number of respondents in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand who fly has been roughly flat over the past year, reflecting weak consumer sentiment.

FT Confidential Research expects that the recently-launched ASEAN Open Skies agreement will result in increased competition and lower prices for consumers, which will encourage more travel within the region.

The agreement allows airlines from the group’s 10 member states to fly freely within the region. Low-cost carriers offer the cheapest and quickest way to get across the region.

AirAsia , which offers the most routes and flies to 100 cities in 22 countries, is likely to reap the greatest initial benefits from the Open Skies policy. It was the most popular airline among survey respondents in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Other airlines are adding regional flights at a rapid pace. Cebu-Pacific , with the slogan “Now every Juan can fly”, flies to more destinations than national flag carrier Philippines Airlines and was the top choice for Filipino respondents.

Only in Vietnam, did national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines remain the top choice. However, Hanoi-based low-cost carrier VietJet is expanding fast on the back of an aggressive marketing campaign. A quarter of Vietnamese respondents said they most frequently fly on VietJet within ASEAN.

Low fuel prices will also enable airlines to maintain profit margins should they wish to cut prices to win more custom, even if that pushes passenger yields lower.

However, increased demand for air travel is also exacerbating the problems associated with poor infrastructure in parts of Southeast Asia.

Airlines are also struggling with a shortage of well-trained pilots and several have had to set up their own training schools.-VNA