KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia's aviation regulator on Tuesday (May 15) denied it had ordered budget airline AirAsia to cancel extra flights to help voters return home for Malaysia's recent election.
The Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) said it had lodged a police report against AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes, who said in a video posted in his Facebook page on Sunday (May 13) the airline had been summoned by Mavcom before polling day and told to cancel all its additional flights.
The regulator said in a statement it “views Fernandes’ claims as serious accusations".
Mavcom "categorically refutes the accusation that it told AirAsia to cancel all 120 additional flights applied for by AirAsia during the 14th Malaysian General Election period," it added.
In response, AirAsia said it "strongly refutes the police report" lodged by Mavcom.
The airline said in a statement the video posted by Fernandes "is fully supported by evidences and facts", including "direct communication" between AirAsia Malaysia CEO Riad Asmat and the Executive Chairman of Mavcom Abdullah bin Ahmad.
"We will cooperate fully with the police on this investigation in accordance to the law and take all actions that are necessary to protect the interests of AirAsia as well as Tan Sri Tony Fernandes," it said.
In the video, Fernandes apologised for endorsing former Malaysian leader Najib Razak, who was ousted by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in last Wednesday’s shock election.
He said he had come under “intense” pressure in the lead-up to the election for adding extra flights and refusing to fire the chairman of a subsidiary who had expressed support for Mahathir.
“Within 24 hours, we were summoned by the Malaysian Aviation Commission and told to cancel all those flights. That put us again under tremendous pressure,” Fernandes said, adding that his airline had added 120 flights.
On Tuesday, the regulator said it had approved 66 extra flights AirAsia applied for on April 23, after the airline revised down its earlier applications for a total of 140 additional flights.
“The commission has never issued any directive to AirAsia or any other airline to reduce or cancel any flights where regulatory requirements are met,” it added.
The regulator also denied summoning any AirAsia staff to appear before it between April 17 and May 13.
Several airlines added flights after the election date was announced and Malaysians made plans to travel to their hometowns to vote.
“Only AirAsia proceeded to reduce its application for extra flights while Firefly, Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air maintained their requests,” the regulator said. It added that it had approved 166 additional flights for various Malaysian-based airlines by April 24, including AirAsia.