By Victor V. Saulon, Sub-Editor
REGIONAL low-cost airline AirAsia Berhad is moving towards the next phase of its business, its founder and CEO Tony Fernandes said, as he envisioned a deeper integration for its operations within the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The second phase now is to integrate AirAsia into more of an ASEAN company — so mixing of our staff, create policies that resonate throughout all the airlines, and then the next stage is to try and make travel in ASEAN easier,” Mr. Fernandes in a press conference after the launch of the airline’s campaign that promotes the economic bloc’s logo and branding on its aircraft.
“There’s lots to do,” he said. “Phase one was just providing connectivity and proving that we are an ASEAN company. Now, we move into deeper integration.”
Mr. Fernandes said integrating means going into secondary and tertiary cities where economic development has taken place.
“Infrastructure is not just about the mega airport and the mega highway. There’s lot of really good airports that could be developed, that could create lots of jobs and a lot of economic growth,” he said.
In the Philippines, Mr. Fernandes said AirAsia was looking at new routes from outside Manila to other regional destinations.
“Our first kind of new route on that from ASEAN would be Davao, where we will launch on the 21st of December. There’s never been a flight between KL (Kuala Lumpur) and Davao. We’re connected also from Kota Kinabalu to Davao,” he said.
“We are looking at Puerto Princesa from various parts in Southeast Asia,” he said, but did not give a timeline.
The AirAsia founder suggested the Philippines should look outside Metro Manila for a new airport, adding a bigger airport should be built in Clark, Pampanga where land area is extensive.
“But in the interim period, while that decision is being made, I believe infrastructure can be built outside — in Davao, in Bohol, in Puerto Princesa. Philippines is one of the best kept secrets in ASEAN. Until I came here I didn’t know Boracay existed,” he said. “And now we have so many flights to Boracay, bringing people from different parts of ASEAN. Very soon, we’ll do Phuket to Boracay as well, linking to great resorts.”
Mr. Fernandes said AirAsia’s aspiration is to create a holding firm that would house the different units in the region.
“We can create an ASEAN holding company that owns all the airlines 100%. That would be my ultimate dream. Then we’d be more efficient. Flying under an ASEAN flag would be great,” he said.
To be efficient, he said AirAsia should have a single ownership structure “as opposed to five ownership structures.
“Chinese airlines can fly to here quite easily, for us we still have 10 countries to deal with, and 10 aviation authorities and 10 regulations. They just deal with ASEAN,” he said.
So far this year, he said AirAsia’s passenger count reached about 73 million, a far cry from the 200,000 passengers it served when the airline started out from Malaysia. It also now has 200 planes from only two when Mr. Fernandes took over and eventually turned around a debt-ridden company.
For 2018, he said his goal is “to put more ASEAN products on the plane.”
“We are the people’s airline and we should have the people’s product on the airline,” Mr. Fernandes said. “And when you put the ASEAN product on our aircraft it’s gonna get so much more exposure.”