Ai­rA­sia eyes in­te­gra­tion of ASEAN oper­a­tions

Business World - - CORPORATE NEWS - 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.

He said the first phase for Ai­rA­sia was to cre­ate con­nec­tiv­ity that al­lows peo­ple within the re­gion to move, but this re­mains an un­fin­ished jour­ney.

“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.”

AI­RA­SIA launched its “Ai­rA­sia Loves ASEAN” cam­paign in­volv­ing a series of ini­tia­tives fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion, tal­ent de­vel­op­ment and the econ­omy to cel­e­brate 50 years of the re­gional bloc.

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