Goan origin Fernandes has pan-India aspiration for his AirAsia (Lead)

April 13th, 2010 - 1:04 pm ICT by IANS  

By Aparajita Gupta
Kuala Lumpur, April 13 (IANS) Malaysian no frills carrier AirAsia, owned by a prominent entrepreneur of Goan origin Anthony “Tony” Francis Fernandes, will add six more flights to India this year to tap the growing traffic.

Flights from Penang to Kolkata will start April 28 and from Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai May 6, followed by Kuala Lumpur-Chennai, Kuala Lumpur-New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur-Bangalore and Kuala Lumpur-Hyderabad operations, officials of the airline said.

“AirAsia is also planning Kolkata-Bangkok direct flight — may be in the middle of next year. Probably, it will be a daily flight,” Fernandes, also the group chief executive of the airline, told IANS here.

“We will go everywhere in India in due course. In China, we go everywhere.”

The airline, originally funded by a government consortium that ran into losses before the takeover by Fernandes, already flies to four Indian destinations. These are from Kuala Lumpur to Trichy, Trivandrum, Kolkata and Kochi.

Recalling how he bought the debt-ridden airline with three other people for a token 26 cents in December 2001 and turned it around, Fernandes said: “We only had two aircraft when we started. Eight years later, we carry 27 million people and have 92 aircraft.”

The company has ordered another 120 aircraft that are to be delivered within 2015, said the 46-year-old entrepreneur, who graduated from the London School of Economics and has worked with companies such as Virgin Atlantic and Time Warner.

Asked about his future plans of connecting with other destinations in India, the first generation entrepreneur said: “Probably Amritsar will be our next destination. I have promised the Sikhs in Southeast Asia.”

An accountant by training, Fernandes was in the music business for 14 years before he bought AirAsia. His Goan father was born in Kolkata and studied at La Martiniere School there. He later migrated to Malaysia as a doctor and stayed there.

Fernandes, whose airline flies to over 20 countries, said the mantra behind his success was “focus and discipline”.

“Focus on lowering the cost is very important to stimulate new markets. The type of fares we have created, people never thought of flying on such fares,” said the chief executive, who says India is like a continent with billion-plus population.

“Secondly, sustainability is very important. The third aspect is we created new markets like Thiruvananthapuram.” He says it is also important to give people more choice.

“One who does not want to eat or one who does not want to have a privileged seat will pay less. On the other hand, one who is carrying 15 (pieces of) luggage, for which the plane weighs more and burns more fuel, needs to pay more.”

Fernandes also ruled out any plan to invest in an Indian airline company for the moment. “India does not allow such investments. An individual can buy, but not a company.”

AirAsia, which has some 7,000 staff with no union, reported a consolidated turnover of RM 7 billion (around $2.16 billion) in 2009 and it made a profit of RM 600 million ($185 million). Fernandes expects a 23 percent passenger growth.

“We have an efficient organisational structure. We have tried to create a family-like environment. Our motto is never to take no for an answer.”

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