AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes apologises for Barisan Nasional-themed flight, says he buckled under govt pressure

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes apologised in a video posted on his Facebook page for buckling under government pressure. PHOTO: REUTERS

AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes on Sunday (May 13) issued an apology, days after he received flak for ferrying former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on a Barisan Nasional-themed flight.

He had painted a company jet in the blue colour of BN, with the jet also carrying BN's campaign slogan, and also appeared in a video in which he credited the government for AirAsia's success.

In a video posted on his Facebook page, he said he had buckled under the intense pressure from the government.

"AirAsia is in a very regulated industry. An industry where almost everything requires the approval of the government, from flights to airport taxes and routes," he said.

"And so, it is never very easy running an airline, and one must always support the government of the day."

Mr Fernandes said that he had been asked to remove AirAsia X chairman Rafidah Aziz from the board, as she started getting more involved in opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan's campaign.

But he refused, despite growing pressure from Mr Najib, as "it just wasn't the right thing to do".

AirAsia was also facing intense pressure from Malaysians to provide more flights with low fares so that they could return home to vote.

"I decided that was the right thing to do. I knew it wouldn't be popular with the government, but I felt as an airline, we have to serve the people," he said.

However, his move did not go unnoticed by the powers that be.

Mr Fernandes said he was summoned by the Malaysian Aviation Commission within 24 hours and told to cancel the 120 extra flights, which would have carried 26,000 people.

"That put us again under tremendous pressure," he added.

He said that he had foolishly thought that his video, which he felt was fairly neutral and factual, "would appease the government and protect the jobs" of AirAsia staff.

This would then allow the airline to continue in its mission to fly 80 million people every year with low fares, he said.

Mr Fernandes was pictured with Mr Najib during the election campaign, and had even changed the uniforms of AirAsia flight attendants from red to blue in the Sabah to Kuala Lumpur flight with Mr Najib on board.

"Under the intense pressure, I buckled. It wasn't right, I will forever regret it," he said.

"But it was a decision made at the spur of the moment to protect that baby that has given so much to Malaysia and will continue to give so much to Malaysia."

Apologising for the pain and hurt he had caused, he said that he is looking forward to a new Malaysia, where everyone is given a chance.

"I will do my level best and put 150 per cent in to make up for this error of judgment and to make sure AirAsia continues to allow dreams to come true," he said.

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