AirAsia boss hopes Asean will move to be single market

MR TONY FERNANDES
MR TONY FERNANDES

AirAsia, established in 2001 by Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, is not just a Malaysian airline, but a true Asean airline connecting 79 destinations via 17 hubs in all 10 Asean countries.

The airline has evolved from being the first low-cost carrier in Asean to becoming an airline with a growing presence in the global aviation industry. It currently has a fleet of 174 Airbus A320 aircraft and is expected to increase to 203 this year.

Today, AirAsia Group flies to a total of 225 routes connecting 109 destinations in 18 countries.

Mr Fernandes, its founder and group chief executive officer, said he was proud of creating a truly Asean company. "We are a company that operates across Asean, and we want our staff to reflect this region's incredible diversity," he said.

"We walk the talk. We have a Thai chief financial officer, an Indonesian communications head, and a Filipino head of social media."

Mr Fernandes said everyone in the airline has his or her own strengths and it would be "foolish not to tap into that".

Last year, the airline made RM6.85 billion (S$2.18 billion) in revenue, which saw a 9 per cent increase from RM6.30 billion in 2015.

POWER OF UNITY

Asean has a huge advantage in terms of size, talent, diversity and geography but as long as we aren't able to act as one, we will be disadvantaged.

MR TONY FERNANDES

Mr Fernandes famously bought the ailing, debt-ridden airline for RM1 from a Malaysian government-owned company and relaunched it as a pioneer of low-cost travel in Asia.

AirAsia went on to win the coveted Skytrax World's Best Low-Cost Airline award eight years in a row from 2009 to 2016.

Mr Fernandes explained that when he first started the airline with his partner and long-time friend Mr Kamarudin, everyone thought they were crazy.

"Three days after we launched, Sept 11 happened. That was just the beginning," he said. He added that the company waded through all sorts of obstacles from high oil prices to low oil prices, the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2013, the outbreak of avian flu, tsunamis, earthquakes, and the conflict in Thailand between former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's red-shirt supporters and the yellow-shirt protesters who oppose him.

Despite the challenges, AirAsia Group has carried more than 360 million passengers since its inception 16 years ago.

Looking at Asean's economic progress, Mr Fernandes said its governments should "cut back on regulations that hold back economic integration".

The airline is also an airline partner for Visit Asean@50 for Asean's 50th anniversary, where it seeks to intensify efforts to fly millions of non-Asean nationals into the region and to promote its places of interest.

"Asean has a huge advantage in terms of size, talent, diversity and geography but as long as we aren't able to act as one, we will be disadvantaged," he said.

In the next five years, the airline intends to move forward with its plans to list its Asean units under a single holding company.

"Our Indonesia and Philippine affiliates have shown tremendous progress and we are confident they will be able to go for listing soon.

"We are talking to governments to get them to change ownership rules and we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Mr Fernandes hopes that with the Asean Economic Community, the region could move towards a true single market to show the world Asean's potential.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Ashley Tang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2017, with the headline 'AirAsia boss hopes Asean will move to be single market'. Print Edition | Subscribe