SEPANG: AirAsia Bhd, which has just signed a sponsorship deal with National Football League’s (NFL) Oakland Raiders, is keen to fly to US destinations.
Group chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes said the budget airline would fly to North America once it sorted out the legal issues and obtained clearance from the respective countries. However, he did not give a timeline.
“It (the United States) is a market that we’re very keen on,” Fernandes told a press conference to announce its sponsorship of the Raiders yesterday.
AirAsia also unveiled the Raiders’ aircraft livery. Also present at the event were Raiders owner Mark Davis and legends Ted Hendricks, Rod Martin and Cliff Branch. The team’s official cheerleaders Raiderettes were also present.
Its associate long-haul, low-cost carrier AirAsia X currently flies to several destinations in the region, Europe and Australia.
AirAsia X chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani said the carrier was very “keen to secure rights” to the United States.
“The aircraft donned with the Oakland Raiders brand symbolises our ambition to open up the US market as our future growth area.
“We’ll be flying this aircraft into Oakland at the start of this coming NFL season,” Azran said.
Fernandes said the airline was looking at New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and one day it would like to go to Hawaii.
“America is a new chapter for us. We’re reaching out to a new market. The partnership with Oakland Raiders is expected to be the catalyst in promoting the AirAsia brand in the United States,” he said.
He added that the partnership was part of its strategy to develop AirAsia into a global brand.
To a question, Azran said it had been discussing with the NFL team for about six months before the deal was concluded.
However, he declined to reveal the cost of the partnership but said it was a “long-term” plan.
“By promoting Malaysia in North America, we hope to bring more travellers from that part of the world to Malaysia, which will help boost tourism and the local economy,” Azran said.
On criticism that AirAsia only sponsored overseas sports team, Fernandes said it was among the top four local corporates to sponsor local sports teams.
“We have just sponsored the Malaysian Hockey Federation by being the title sponsor and the Women’s World Table Tennis Championships 2008,” he said.
In a separate press conference, AirAsia chairman Datuk Abdul Aziz Abu Bakar said it had been making monthly payments to Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB).
“However, there is a portion outstanding, pending decision on AirAsia’s requests for MAHB to review its charging mechanism,” he said.
Abdul Aziz said some Members of Parliament who brought up the issue had misconstrued that AirAsia had not paid MAHB since 2002.
“We have been paying MAHB on a monthly basis. For the first five months of this year, we’ve paid over RM40mil. AirAsia has, since 2003, paid MAHB a total of RM404mil. In 2008, we paid RM117mil.”
Abdul Aziz said AirAsia had been overcharged by about RM100mil by MAHB.
“Since moving to the low-cost carrier terminal in March 2006, AirAsia had been overcharged by no less than RM12mil.
“There are also growth incentives on the increase in the number of passenger throughput and landings worth no less than RM90mil, for which both parties have been in discussion but yet to reach a conclusion,” he said.
The issue was not about AirAsia not making payments to MAHB, Abdul Aziz stressed, adding that he welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement on the appointment of a consultant to resolve this and other outstanding issues between the two parties.