Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fly the Flight Simulator at AirAsia Culture Carnival

19 May 2009

Travel on AirAsia. Check. Fly an AirAsia plane. Wait. What? On 30 May, the good peeps at AirAsia are letting you experience what it's like to fly a plane at its first AirAsia Culture Carnival!

The Flight Simulator is part of the all-day AirAsia Culture Carnival. Located at the Academy, you'd need to drop your name card in the Sim Ride Lucky Draw Box to be in the running for the ride. Names will be called at 12.30pm so if you're one of the lucky nine, AirAsia will escort you to the Simulator area.

Apart from the Flight Simulator, you can expect to find fun games, food stalls, entertainment, auctions and more. The free-for-all event is at the Academy on 30 May (Saturday), 10am to 7pm. Visit here if you'd like a map to the venue.

Girls just wanna have fun British Girl Band The Saturdays Is Enjoying Life Introducing The World To Its Brand Of Music

18 May 2009

British girl band The Saturdays may lack the exuberance of The Spice Girls and is more girl-next-door than the Pussycat Dolls (PCD). However, the girls are not averse to being referred to as the better-dressed ­version of PCD, which is a compliment since PCD’s vocals are far superior to The Spice Girls.

The Saturdays released its debut ­album, Chasing Lights, in Britain last year (­reissued this year with new song, Just Can’t Get Enough) and enjoyed moderate ­success. But it was its singles – If This is Love, Up and Just Can’t Get Enough (a cover of Depeche Mode’s hit) – that got the band noticed and the girls are now beginning to make waves in both their home country and now, Asia.
Recently, The Saturdays flew in for three days for a series of interviews as well as a showcase concert at Zouk as part of Universal Music and AirAsia’s long-term business deal to bring in Britain’s brightest new acts for showcase concerts and meet-the-fans ­sessions in Asia.

The Saturdays comprises Irish singer-songwriter Una Healy, ex-S Club 8 members Frankie Sandford and Rochelle Wiseman, Vanessa White and Mollie King.

The group had earlier performed at a mini showcase to launch the AirAsia X inaugural flight to London on March 11. Its lead single, Up, is featured on AirAsia X’s in-flight radio on the budget airline’s ­inaugural Kuala Lumpur-London flight. Up is currently enjoying heavy airplay on radio stations in Malaysia as well.

At a media session recently, the girls were asked what they looked for in a man. ­Sandford replied that all of them appreciate a man with a sense of humour.

On who has received the most marriage proposals, the microphone was passed to White, who looked ­really embarrassed.

She quickly regained her composure and laughingly said that she doesn’t really know. “We haven’t received any [yet]!” she giggled.

Amidst fielding questions about what they think of Malaysia and the food here (they love Malaysia and they were ­absolutely delighted with the food), the girls appeared happy enough to be able to travel and ­promote their music.

The girls revealed that their coming ­together as a group was relatively recent and it’s amazing how they managed to gel and work together as a group.

“We only got together as a group two years ago this summer. We grew as a group and we are now best friends,” explained Healy.

Encouraged by the success of their first album, Sandford said they have started some work on the second but added that for the moment, they are concentrating on promoting Chasing Lights.

Wiseman said they work very hard at what they do because this is something they had always wanted from the beginning – to make good music.

On recent reports about artistes crashing and burning out after achieving success, Sandford said things are different for them.

“People who fall into that hole don’t have supportive family and friends around them to keep them grounded. The moment one of us falls down, someone will pull us back up,” she said.

“We are all family now,” said White, referring to how closely-knit the girls are. “This (their trip to Kuala Lumpur) is just like a family outing.”

The Saturdays will be touring in Asia in the middle of this year and hopefully, they will fly back into Kuala Lumpur then.

AirAsia AK5358 passengers to be quarantined

18 May 2009

KUALA LUMPUR – All 102 passengers on AirAsia Flight AK5358 from the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang to Penang last Wednesday have been ordered to undergo home quarantine.

Deputy health-director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat Health said authorities nationwide have been ordered to ensure that the affected travellers stay at home.

The five crew members on the flight have already been isolated, he added.

Passengers with any flu symptoms must get to the nearest hospital immediately, Dr Ramlee Rahmat said at a press briefing yesterday.

The country’s second A (H1N1) flu case, a 21-year-old female Malaysian student who had flown in from the United States, was on AK5358. She boarded the AirAsia flight about four hours after arriving at KLIA at last Wednesday aboard MH091 from Newark Airport, New Jersey, via Stockholm.

Dr Ramlee said passengers could contact the ministry at 03-8881-0200 or 03-8881-0300 or the health department for assistance and monitoring during the quarantine.

Malaysia’s first A (H1N1) case, a 21-year-old man, was also on Flight MH091.

Both are recovering and their seven-day quarantine will end on Wednesday.

On the other 117 passengers on MH091 who disembarked at KLIA, Dr Ramlee said the ministry had put 95– 80 Malaysians and 15 foreigners – under home quarantine. The 15 crew members are also under home quarantine.

Are The Oakland Raiders Getting an A340 Jet Or Just An Air Asia Route?

18 May 2009

A while back we heard some rumors that Air Asia X, a low-cost long-haul carrier would be opening up a new route out of the U.S. Back then we heard:

Azran Osman Rani (CEO of AirAsia X) has been talking to JFK and 2 California airports regarding launching long haul service from KL. There's nothing definitive lined up, but the time-frame would be in about a year.

This weekend, we were tipped off about a thread over at where a member noticed this plane adorned with an Oakland Raiders logo peeking out of an SIA hanger at the Changi Airport in Singapore. There's a lot of speculation going on in the comments of this thread, ranging from the Raiders owner Al Davis forking out money for a new team jet to the rumor we like the most--Air Asia X is going to start an Oakland service soon.

Reading through the entire thread is a bit like spying on boys in the gym class locker room, except the boys are talking about airplanes and football and nothing about whether they like, like like you or not. Anyways, what we've been able to deduce is that there is a possibility that Air Asia X would kick off their possible Oakland to Kuala Lumpur service by painting a Raiders logo on the tail, based on the evidence that Air Asia does this already for two European football teams.

Indeed a listing on Skyliners has noted that an A340 was painted with the Oakland Raiders logo and is nicknamed "Autumn Wind One," leading us to think Air Asia X will start service out of Oakland this fall.

There is also the "possibility" that someone faked the photo, that Al Davis needs a jet to fly back and forth from his crypt, or that this is just a very expensive advertising campaign to sell football tickets for a pretty awful team. As one commenter wrote, "We'll just have to wait and see."

Interview : AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes

18 May 2009

We are stuck inside a busy restaurant called "Taste of Asia"at Kuala Lumpur's low-cost terminal for 20 minutes. A crowd has gathered because a rock star is in the house; his name is Tony Fernandes.

All it takes is for one person to tentatively walk up to the AirAsia chief executive and ask for a photograph. Fernandes adjusts his trademark red cap, shakes the passenger's hand, puts his arm around him and smiles widely with a thumbs-up as the camera clicks. He then turns to the passenger and says: "Thank you for flying with us."

Within seconds, dozens of AirAsia passengers -on their way to destinations as disparate as Bandung in Indonesia and Brisbane in Australia -leave their food and surround him. They are waiting to have a snapshot taken with the man who made their trip affordable, and possible. The 45-year-old Malaysian happily obliges everyone.

Tony Fernandes AirAsia (200) © Law Kian Yan
© Law Kian Yan

Welcome to the world of Anthony Francis Fernandes. In 2001, the man who spent much of his youth studying in England and playing schoolboy rugby, got out of a great career in the music business to plunge into a dream of running an airline. He mortgaged his house and, together with some friends and investors, bought AirAsia. Back then it was then a moribund Malaysian operation that cost 1 ringgit ($0.28) and brought with it 40 million ringgit in debt and two Boeing 737-300 aircraft.

He proclaimed that he would start Asia's first proper low-cost operation, and met polite smiles and condescending nods. He was seen as a maverick, who would crash and burn trying to take on the Malaysian and Southeast Asian airline and airport establishment. He has proven everyone wrong.

AirAsia is now the region's largest low-cost operator, with a network of 122 routes covering more than 65 destinations. It has carried over 65 million passengers since its inception and grown its fleet to 80 aircraft. It has gone public, ordered 175 Airbus A320s, started associates in Indonesia and Thailand, and finally secured access to Singapore after overcoming various obstacles. Fernandes and AirAsia have also helped to start AirAsia X, a long-haul, low-cost airline that has 25 Airbus A330s on order and will imminently sign a deal for around 25 Airbus A350s.

"For the first time, in 2009, we really see AirAsia's true potential," he says with a satisfied grin. "I've had a lot more white hair in the process, but it has been worth it." Many still think he is a maverick, but they add the "visionary"tag to that. AirAsia has grown beyond anyone's imagination - except, perhaps, his own - and has arguably done more than any other to unite the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

He adds: "AirAsia has gone from a sparkle in my eye, to thinking that this could work, and then believing that we have arrived. It affects many lives and economies in a positive sense. We are no longer just a Malaysian ­carrier; we are an Asean airline."

The evidence is in Kuala Lumpur's low-cost terminal (LCCT), a 20-minute drive from the main Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It does not have flashy restaurants or fountains, but it packs in the crowds.

Imagine Kuala Lumpur's old Pudu Raya bus station -which in its heyday had hundreds of passengers arriving every hour from all corners of Malaysia, and Singapore and Thailand -and you get the idea. Simply substitute the buses with aircraft and include accents from every Southeast Asian country, with the Chinese, Indian, English and Australian twang thrown in.

"We're the only brand to promote Asean. It is not just about price, we brought points together like never before. Bandung-Singapore, Kuala Lumpur-Banda Aceh; it was not this easy to travel around the region until we started doing it," he says. It involved building the business up, and then doing "a helluva lot of lobbying and presentations" to convince governments it was better to open their doors, instead of protecting their legacy carriers.

"Commerce, rather than governments, drives Asean. Countries will always want more want tourists and traffic. Asean governments realised they had to open up or always play second fiddle to China and India," says Fernandes. "When you're AirAsia, carrying 24 million people, airport chiefs and tourism ministers realise it doesn't help them to protect national airlines after we talk to them."

Singapore, Southeast Asia's main air hub, is a prime example. It did not allow him to start an associate in the country, but he continued to lobby the government and proved the airline's value through its Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian operations. He still does not have a Singapore-based carrier, but finally has access to the country. AirAsia flies to five cities in both Malaysia and Indonesia, two in Thailand, and there are more to come.

Much of the success stems from AirAsia's work culture, which stresses innovation, openness and a never-say-die attitude. Its offices have few physical barriers between desks, there are no titles on name cards and everyone is encouraged to use first names. Cabin crew are pushed to develop their own personality, instead of conforming to preconceived notions about their role, resulting in a relaxed onboard environment. The CEO sets the tone. Anyone can walk up to "Tony", exchange a high-five, and offer a suggestion or just grumble about football. Talk to almost any of the 6,000-strong AirAsia staff, and a strong sense of ownership is evident.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes (200) (c) Law Kian Yan

© Law Kian Yan

"We're still a small operation, despite growing so fast, and that means everyone is valuable. At the end of the day, I would rather have 6,000 brains working for me instead of just 10. We are always innovating and we never stand still, and that has helped us," says Fernandes. "If there is a good idea, it can be implemented very fast as there is little bureaucracy. If there is a bad idea, we can kill it really fast too. That is how we do things that others may not try."The informal culture also helpskeep costs down, ever-important to a low-cost carrier. There are few personal assistants, the executives do not have drivers and Fernandes does not have a posse when he travels.

AirAsia has made tough calls recently, paying $115 million to exit fuel hedges last year and unwinding interest rate swaps, related to aircraft term loans. The short-term pain will save money in the longer-run and "we won't have a noose around our necks going forward over this year", says Fernandes. "We had to think on our feet. People initially criticised us, but we turned out to be right. The company's culture allows us to move fast when it comes to making decisions like those." As a result, Air-Asia had a unit cost of 3.08 cents per ASK in 2008, 10% lower than the previous year. "That is the toughest part of the business and our margins are among the best in the world."

Retainingfocus on the key business helps, and that remains serving markets within four hour's flying time of its three hubs. "I'm still scratching the surface in Southeast Asia," he says. "I'm still small in Thailand and Indonesia, relative to their population sizes, and we're eyeing joint-ventures in the Philippines and Vietnam. We've faced obstacles in Vietnam, but we are patient. It took us seven years to get Kuala Lumpur-Singapore, and a lot can change in Vietnam in the next five years."

India and China are next in his sights, but that is in tandem with AirAsia X, which will serve the markets four to eight hours out of Kuala Lumpur. These include destinations in Japan, South Korea, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, India and China.

Fernandes is not involved in AirAsia X's day-to-day operations, even though he gives a lot of input into its strategic direction. Walking up one of the airline's new A330s, which is about to take off for Melbourne, and meeting the passengers, he becomes animated. It is clear that this operation is close to his heart. After all, the long-haul operation was his original plan until former Ryanair executive Conor McCarthy, who became an AirAsia investor, persuaded him that the short-haul market had better prospects.

He admits it was the right move: "AirAsia X is a wonderful addition; it brings the brand to another level. Look, it is sexier flying to London and Melbourne than Bandung," says Fernandes. "But without AirAsia's short-haul market and the connectivity to Southeast Asia it offers, there would be no AirAsia X. That is why it will be hard for anyone else to emulate it. Look at Oasis Hong Kong - what else did they offer apart from flights to London? Is it any surprise that they had to shut down?"

Keeping AirAsia X as a separate company was a "clever step" that protects AirAsia, which has only a 16% stake in it, he adds. Aero Ventures, which Fernandes started with other prominent Malaysians and Air Canada's Robert Milton, owns 48% of the long-haul operation. The other investors are Richard Branson's Virgin Group (16%), Bahrain's Manara (10%) and Japan's Orix (10%). "We work on lots of things together, but we have not put down any money since we started it up. It is an independent business that derives its own cash and is profitable."

AirAsia itself, which listed on Bursa Malaysia in 2004, posted a net loss last year - but Fernandes says the first quarter of 2009 was profitable. Its shares have had a rough time on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange and last year, when the price fell to around 0.80 ringgit, Fernandes and the other founders considered taking the airline private. They abandoned that plan after credit became tight. "We saw value in the price at the end of last year, and we still do, but we could not raise the money," he explains. Even if the average Malaysian shareholder may not see value, others could. Branson is mentioned as a possible investor, but when questioned about it Fernandes says with a laugh: "Ask Branson about that one!" Equity partnerships with other airlines, however, are a possibility if they bring tangible benefits.

"The world is a very small place. Will there be combinations between airlines? Sure. Will we consider something? Yes, if it makes sense. Air France-KLM is a good example of how something like that can work, but the combination must add value to shareholders. The reality is that many mergers are driven by ego or airline necessity but, truthfully, most have not done a good job of it."

Fernandes concedes he may have to step down if there is a change in ownership, but he insists it may not be too hard. "If someone else feels that they can do a better job, sure. One of the great things is to know your sell-by date. Many people in Asia cannot let go. You are not a good leader unless you have a succession plan." However, he adds with a grin: "I'm not looking to leave any time soon. There's still a lot to do."

Fernandes gets a kick out of overcoming challenges, and there are still plenty of them. The biggest, he says, are airport operators, in particular Malaysian Airports, which runs KLIA and the low-cost terminal. MAB has successfully lobbied the government, preventing AirAsia from building its own low-cost airport near Kuala Lumpur. Instead, it promised it would expand the LCCT by 2011. A visibly exasperated Fernandes points out that they made similar promises in the past and nothing happened. The existing low-cost terminal is already bursting at its seams.

"Airports are parasites and, in Asia, their pricing is not transparent. Low-cost carriers should not be levied the same fees as the full-service airlines. We bring in a lot more volume, and there is plenty of ancillary income - just look at how crowded the shops and restaurants in our terminal are," he says. "I am an aggressive entrepreneur, but Asian airports are slow to respond. If anything stops our growth, it is the airports. If we have to defer aircraft orders, it is because of them. They curb our potential"

If the airports meet his ambitions, he says the possibilities are mind-boggling. "Southwest Airlines has 400 aircraft and a market of 300 million. On top of that, in America, you can drive from one end to another and they have pretty good train services. We don't have that over here," Fernandes points out. "Air-Asia is in a playground of 600 million people in Asean. If you add India and China, the other key markets we can touch, you can easily add a billion people, maybe more. That is Air-Asia's potential, and we aim to get there."


As a young boy, Tony Fernandes dreamt of representing Malaysia in the Olympics. He played rugby, hockey and cricket while studying in England, and now loves squash and football. It is hardly surprising AirAsia is involved in sports sponsorship. It partners the Williams Formula Oneteam and sponsors the shirts of English professional football referees. It also worked with Manchester United and considered shirt sponsorship.

West Ham United fan Fernandes, says: "As a low-cost carrier, we constantly battle the image that we are low-quality. Our involvement in F1 and professional football helps. F1 races take place in the cities that AirAsia X plans to fly to, and English football is popular in Asia and shown all over the world. We won't be able to carry 24 million passengers without marketing." AirAsia gets good value through these deals, says Fernandes, but he is coy on the cost: "Let's just say that those in F1 and football are very good at making money!"


AirAsia's main customers are still those who could not previously afford to fly, but its passenger profile is changing as it adds destinations and increases brand awareness.

"The economically disadvantaged are there, and the main market is still the mass market -that will never change -but we are reaching markets that we never dreamt of," says Fernandes. "Goldman Sachs executives in Singapore, for example, are very happy that we opened up Singapore-Bandung as it allows them to them to meet clients in the Indonesian city. Our corporate business has gone up 400% because companies want to save money and, once they fly us, they don't want to change."

Fernandes' airline is transforming the perception of low-cost travel, giving rise to a diverse cross-section of passengers. The AirAsia chief executive says: "We show that low-cost does not mean low class. In the Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur flight, you'll find women with diamonds sitting beside maids. You could not see that before. That shows we're reaching everyone."

What does he think AirAsia means to its customers? "Nobody has really asked me that before," he says, pausing for the first time in the hour-long interview. "I think they are really proud to travel in an airline that came out of nowhere and provides a service that they did not have before. AirAsia made air travel possible for millions; it's their airline. Every day that I walk around the terminal, people come up and says thank you. If you run an airline, there is probably little more that will make you more happy."

Compare Fernandes' thoughts today with his views when we interviewed him in 2004

Man rushed to hospital after fainting on plane

18 May 2009

KUCHING: A Kuala Lumpur-bound AirAsia flight from Sandakan, Sabah, was forced to make an emergency landing here after a passenger fainted on board.

The unidentified 30-year-old man from Johor was rushed by ambulance to the Sarawak General Hospital at 2pm yesterday.

The hospital authorities are treating him as a suspected influenza A (H1N1) patient as he had a fever.

The man, who was still unconscious on arrival at the hospital, had travelled to Sandakan with two other friends on a business trip last Friday.

According to one of his friends, who declined to be named, the man had sustained serious head wounds in a road accident a year ago but it was not known if the fainting spell was linked to the past injury.

He said the man had not travelled abroad in recent months.

Ministry tracking down 106 on AirAsia flight

18 May 2009

Patients being tested for influenza A waiting for treatment at Kuala Lumpur Hospital.

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry is tracking down 101 passengers and five crew members of AirAsia AK5358 flight to Penang on May 13, the same flight taken by a woman who has been infected with influenza A (H1N1).

The woman had taken the flight from the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal on arrival from Newark, New Jersey, on Malaysia Airlines flight MH091 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Health deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said all passengers on board had been identified and efforts were being made to trace and quarantine them. They and their families would have to undergo the standard seven-day quarantine and the ministry would also trace the people they had been in contact with. It is not known if the woman had taken the shuttle bus from the KLIA to the LCCT.
However, she was picked up by her family at the Penang Airport. The woman was the second confirmed case of the influenza after her 21-year-old male friend was declared Malaysia's first case. The man was isolated at the Sungai Buloh Hospital at 6.45pm on Thursday, a day after he arrived at KLIA and was picked up by his family. As he was down with fever, his movements had been restricted to his home since his arrival. Both families are in quarantine at home. At present, the two patients are reportedly fine, although the man still has fever. "They will be discharged after they are declared fit and have completed their quarantine," Dr Ramlee said at a press conference. He said a possibly wider spread of the virus from the duo could not be ruled out. Those who believed they had been exposed to the virus and had symptoms should go to the nearest health centre and not self-medicate, he said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH091 landed at the KLIA at 7.15am on Wednesday.
The virus has a two-to-three-day incubation period during which symptoms linked to the disease would not be visible. Dr Ramlee also announced that until yesterday morning, 102 notifications were made to the ministry's Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre, including those from the MH091 flight. All, except the two confirmed cases, were declared free from the virus. Of the 119 passengers on the flight whose last stop was Kuala Lumpur, 95 people, including 15 foreigners, had been put under home quarantine, while 24 people, including 23 foreigners, were still being traced.
Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd senior general manager (operations) Datuk Azmi Murad said officers stationed at the KLIA, including Immigration and Customs officials, would be monitored for any symptoms of the flu. Foreign Minister Datuk Anifah Aman said his ministry would consult the Health Ministry for advice and guidelines on the safety measures that Malaysian students abroad should observe.

Air Asia flies to Sri Lanka from August

17 May 2009

He said that the lowest fare will be available at the site while we will also appoint a local agent for people who want to enjoy a personalised service.

Already 55 million passengers have flown with us in 122 routes.. AirAsia pioneered low cost travelling in Asia and is also the first airline in the region to implement fully ticketless travel.

The airline was established in 1993 and started operations on November 18, 1996. It was originally founded by a government-owned conglomerate DRB-Hicom. On December 2, 2001, the heavily-indebted airline was purchased by former Time Warner executive Tony Fernandes’ company Tune Air Sdn Bhd.

On December 27, 2006, AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandes unveiled a five-year plan to further enhance its presence in Asia.In the plan, AirAsia will strengthen and enhance its route network by connecting all the existing cities in the region and expanding further into Indochina, Indonesia, Southern China (Kun Ming, Xiamen, Shenzen) and India. The airline will focus on developing its hubs in Bangkok and Jakarta through its sister companies, Thai AirAsia and Indonesia AirAsia. Late last year the airline abolished fuel surcharges and so claimed to be the ‘first airline in the world to abolish fuel surcharges’.

AirAsia passengers to be quarantined - UPDATED

17 May 2009

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry hopes to contact all passengers on AirAsia flight AK 5358 leaving LCCT in Sepang for Penang at 11 a.m. on May 13 (Wednesday), for quarantine purposes after one of the passengers was identified as a confirmed Influenza A (H1N1) victim.

Deputy director-general of Health, Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said the ministry had passed on information about the 101 passengers and five crew members on the flight, to the state health department for quarantine purposes.

"We would like to inform the passengers or flight crew on that flight to cooperate with the health authorities by contacting 03-8881 0200 or 03-8881 0300 for information and preventive measures," he told reporters here today (17 May).

Dr Ramlee said according to procedures, they must be quarantined at their houses for seven days and can only leave the house if they are cleared of any signs or symptoms.

He added that the ministry was also trying to track down 24 passengers, including a Malaysian, who had been on a Malaysia Airlines flight MH091 that arrived at KLIA from Newark, New Jersey (USA) at 7.15am on May 13, the same flight that the two confirmed influenza A victims had flown.

Dr Ramlee said from the 119 passengers who are in the country, three of them were admitted for observation, and two of them were confirmed positive for Influenza A (H1N1) while the others, except for the 24 yet to be identified, had been quarantined at their houses.

As for the two confirmed cases, Dr Ramlee said both were in stable condition and showed positive improvement.

The first victim being treated at the Sungai Buloh Hospital has fever but no cough or flu while the second one at the Penang Hospital does not have fever or any other symptoms.

Dr Ramlee said as of 8am today, the national Crisis Prevention and response Centre (CPRC) received 102 cases that had been referred to hospitals for observation and out of the total, two were positive for Influenza A (H1N1).

He said as of yesterday, 103,536 passengers on flights, were screened at various entry points in the country.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had announced that 38 countries have been identified with the Influenza A (H1N1) virus outbreak with Turkey, India and Peru being the latest addition, he said.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Expanding Into a Downturn

15 May 2009

Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia. At a time when most carriers are sharply reducing capacity and cutting routes, AirAsia has been adding destinations.

SINGAPORE — As a teenager at boarding school in Britain, Tony Fernandes dreamed of having his own airline to fly between London and Kuala Lumpur, where his family lived.

This year, Mr. Fernandes, the 45-year-old chief executive of AirAsia, a low-cost regional competitor to Malaysian Airlines, has finally seen the fulfillment of that dream.

Mr. Fernandes, a hands-on chief, is known for regularly working alongside his staff as cabin crew or baggage handler. He established AirAsia X, its long-haul division, in 2007, but he had never actually taken a flight in the new airline until last March, when it initiated the Kuala Lumpur-London route.

“I really wanted my first flight on AirAsia X to be that one,” Mr. Fernandes said during a recent interview in Singapore. “I’d always made excuses, though no one realized why,” he said. “But picking up my daughter, who is going to same school as I did, and taking her home to K.L., that was really emotional. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to crying.”

At a time when most carriers are sharply reducing capacity and cutting routes, AirAsia has been adding new destinations for its short-haul operation as well as AirAsia X’s long-haul forays. In April, the company announced four new routes between the city-state of Singapore and destinations in Indonesia, which make it the biggest low-cost carrier out of Singapore.

Expanding in the middle of a downturn is not a strategy for the faint-hearted. But Mr. Fernandes said he had built his business by not being afraid of contrarian trends.

He and three partners bought the then-unprofitable AirAsia in 2001 for a nominal 1 ringgit, but with the assumption of its 40 million ringgit, or $11.3 million, of debt. The deal was concluded three days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The following year, during the SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome pandemic, Mr. Fernandes decided to go against the perceived wisdom and tripled the company’s advertising budget. The goal: “to grab market share” while other airlines pulled back amid consumer fears about air travel.

Last year, Mr. Fernandes decided to unwind his fuel hedges, which had locked the company into buying oil at prices that Mr. Fernandes felt were higher than where the market was headed. While this led the company, which made a profit of 697.6 million ringgit in 2007, to post a loss of 471.7 million ringgit in 2008 — its first on his watch — the decision allowed the airline to get the full benefit of oil at $40 a barrel while other airlines were still locked in to higher prices.

“If we hadn’t done this, we’d be sitting on a fairly huge loss now,” he said.

Peter Harbison, executive chairman of the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, an aviation analysis company, said Air Asia’s expansion plans in the current environment represented a risk, but one worth running “as long as the dark forces of protectionism don’t re-emerge and shut off access to new markets.”

“I think the AirAsia X model is a good one,” he added. Unlike the other long-haul low-cost airlines, like Oasis, Zoom, XL, which failed because they concentrated on one highly volatile market, “AirAsia X is able to synergize with the short-haul AirAsia network, which works very well,” Mr. Harbison said. “Whether it can weather the price cutting that is now going on is another question.”

So far this year, AirAsia has enjoyed a “fantastic” first quarter, while early booking for AirAsia X is strong, Mr. Fernandes said.

“We’re still getting a sense that people are willing to fly if the price is right,” he said. “I think we’re in a good position because as the market drops, a lot of the incumbents are cutting capacity and we’re soaking up a bit of that.”

Mr. Fernandes remains ambitious, hoping to raise the number of passengers for AirAsia to 60 million by 2013 from an anticipated 24 million this year, and for AirAsia X to about 10 million in the same period from just under a million this year.

Having achieved some of his dreams, Mr. Fernandes said he still had others to fulfill, including owning a sports team. “Football or Formula 1,” he said. “Football would be better because I’m not a mechanical type of person.”

“Right now is not the time because I wouldn’t be able to donate the right amount of time,” he added. “If I do it, I want to do it well. It’s not a vanity thing; I’d want to be successful; I’d want it to make money.”

AirAsia to launch Colombo- Kuala Lumpur flights

15 May 2009

AirAsia will soon launch Colombo- Kuala Lumpur direct daily flights.

A representative of AirAsia, Spencer Lee told Daily News Business that the company is planning to commence operations in August and is in the process of finalizing the agreement with their local agent.

He said there is a growing demand for air travel between Colombo and Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur is a gateway for many destinations in the Asian region.

There will be a huge boost in tourism and business activities in both destination and Sri Lanka is a lucrative market. There will be business travellers and tourists travelling between these two destinations, he said.

We feel this is the right time to enter the Sri Lankan market. The company will have a new airbus for Sri Lanka`s operations. The company will appoint an officer to handle Sri Lanka`s operations, he said.

Our philosophy is `Now Everyone Can Fly` through offering low cost airfares which will make it more affordable for passengers, he said.

The low fare airline, AirAsia has been expanding rapidly since 2001, to become an award winning and the largest low cost carrier in Asia. With a fleet of 72 aircraft, AirAsia flies to over 61 domestic and international destinations with 108 routes, and operates over 400 flights daily from hubs in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia

Sunday, May 17, 2009

AirAsia sees opportunities amid slowdown

15 May 2009

It is to triple advertising spending

KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia Bhd will triple its advertising spending this year as it sees opportunities to expand amid the economic slowdown, said group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes.

However, he declined to disclose the figures for competitive reasons.He told StarBiz that two days ago, the budget airline managed to sell 250,000 seats in one day, a record for the company.

“I always believe nothing is impossible and for me, at this time of uncertainty, a lot of opportunities are there for us to grab,” Fernandes said yesterday after speaking at the Malaysian Association of Professional Speakers seminar here.

“... This is the best time for you to build your brand as others are taking a step backward,” he said.

AIRASIA group chief executive Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes

He pointed out that Air Asia would fly to destinations that other airlines wouldn’t dare go to such as Acheh, Bandung and Macau.

“The markets that are still untapped are very big out there. If you dare to go and with proper plans, you will succeed,” he said.

At the seminar, Fernandes said creativity, brand innovation and technology were crucial in running a business in these turbulent times.

“A business entity needs to have a very good environment. The workplace should be a fun place to be, as this will help the workers to come up with more creative and bright ideas,” he said.

He also said the budget airline hoped to help the Government boost the tourism sector amid the slowdown. “We want to contribute to the economy, pushing our networking services to woo more tourists to come and spend here,” he said.

Amex launches first tie-up with budget airline

14 May 2009

[top photo: Mr Peter Kapoor (L), regional vice-president of American Express, holding up a model of an AirAsia plane.]

SEVEN years ago, a fledgling low-cost airline approached credit-card companies in Singapore, hoping they would allow their cards to be used in online and over-the-phone transactions.

Things did not work out with American Express (Amex) then.

Roll on seven years and the budget airline, AirAsia, has grown in prominence, adding many more routes and even flying to longer-haul destinations such as the United Kingdom. It was recently voted the world's best low-cost airline.

In 2006, it was Amex's turn to do the courting, said its regional vice-president Peter Kapoor as it embarked on a "three-year courtship" to work out a tie-up with AirAsia.

Yesterday, the two firms scored a first when they launched a partnership; Amex previously had tie-ups only with full-service airlines such as Singapore Airlines.

Amex cardmembers can now use their credit cards to book AirAsia flights online and over the phone.

AirAsia's popularity with Amex cardholders was one major reason the credit-card company sought to work out the partnership with the airline, said Mr Kapoor.

"The low-cost carrier is not just for backpacking travellers. Nowadays, businessmen, whether from big corporations or small companies, travel on budget airlines, especially to our neighbouring countries."

AirAsia's regional head of commercial Kathleen Tan said there have been some 30,000 transactions with Amex customers since the tie-up was implemented last month.

Ms Tan said the airline grew by 30 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, despite the economic crisis and worldwide flu scare.

"During an economic downturn, there's more reason for companies to cut costs, but people still need to fly. We are providing for that - premium flights that are affordable."

British girl group to fly in on regional tour

13 May 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: The latest British all-girl music sensation – The Saturdays – will be in town on their regional tour this July and August.

Air Asia will be the official arline taking Una Healy, Rochelle Wiseman, Vanessa White, Mollie King and Frankie Stadford on their tour in partnership with the world’s biggest record company Universal Music.

South-east Asia will be the group’s first tour destination covering Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila and later to Hong Kong.

AirAsia group CEO Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said the partnership was also to promote the airline’s brand campaign ‘Have you flown AirAsia lately?’

“Music is in our blood. This partnership will bring this fast-rising girl band to AirAsia’s many destinations.

Partners in music: Fernandes with The Saturdays at the press conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

“We will be drumming up the excitement in the music scene of many cities that we fly to, particularly those in Asean,” he told a press conference before a showcase by The Saturdays at a club here yesterday.

It was not the first time AirAsia and The Saturdays have worked together.

The band performed a mini-showcase at the launch of AirAsia X’s inaugural flight to Stansted, London on March 11.

Formed in Britain in 2007, The Saturdays released their debut album Chasing Lights about three weeks ago in Malaysia, with four hit singles, Up, If This is Love, Issues, and Just Can’t Get Enough.

Fernandes said that while the airline was fully committed to helping to break the band into the Asian market, they would not rule out bringing other acts into the region.

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Two sen a night at Tune hotels

13 May 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia affiliate Tune is offering rooms from as low as two sen per night at its hotels in Penang, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and the KLIA-LCCT Airport.

The promotional rates are for stays between Feb 1 and April 30 next year for bookings made between now and May 18.

“The promotion is to extend our appreciation to guests for supporting the Tune brand since it was launched in Kuala Lumpur two years ago,” CEO Mark Lankester said in a statement yesterday.

He said that Tune would be expanding domestically to Johor Baru, Langkawi, Miri and Sandakan; and regionally via franchising and joint venture partnerships to Indonesia, India and China.

“Two regional properties will be opening in the fourth quarter of this year in Kuta and Legian in Bali, Indonesia, with 139 and 170 rooms respectively,” Lankester said.

For further information and bookings, visit or call 03-7962 5888 from 9am to 9pm on Mondays to Fridays.

AirAsia X CEO: Fight will now be on service quality and destinations

13 May 2009

SEPANG: Malaysia’s only low-cost long-haul airline, AirAsia X, wants to raise its service levels to gain a bigger market share of the routes that it now plies.

Ultimately, it wants to take on full service carriers on service quality as competition for air fares has intensified. The fight would now be on service quality and the next on destinations, said chief executive officer Azran Osman Rani.

“While they (the full service carriers) are downgrading, we are going to change our game plan by improving on our service. We want to beat them (full service carriers) on the service game and we can do it since our costs is low,” Azran told StarBiz in an interview recently.

Since AirAsia X began plying several long-haul sectors, its rivals, mostly full service carriers, have dropped fares to match those offered by the low-cost carrier.

AirAsia X, which is 20% owned by AirAsia, now flies from the low-cost carrier terminal at KL International Airport to Perth, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Hangzhou, Tianjin and London.

These days, a traveller can fly to Melbourne or even Perth for RM299 one-way, something unimaginable before AirAsia X began plying those routes.

AirAsia X, which is 20% owned by AirAsia, now flies from the low-cost carrier terminal at the KL International Airport to Perth, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Hangzhou, Tianjin and London.

It will begin daily flights to London on July 1 and launch flights to Taipei on the same date.

“They can cut their fares but they have a higher cost base, so it will be difficult for them to match us as our cost base is very low,” Azran added.

As part of its service offerings, the airline will offer new fare classes, have greater flexibility for passengers changing flights, reliability on timings and smooth check-ins.

Azran Osman Rani

“We are looking at interesting ways to make the customer experience better. All this will help us get more customers while the full service carriers are cutting on service quality which will erode their brand experience. We just want to do the opposite,” he added.

First and business classes are on a downtrend and more companies are now warming up to low-cost travel as they trim travel budgets amid the economic slowdown.

Corporate travellers now make over 35% of the traffic on low-cost carriers (LCCs), up from 10% a year ago, according to The Centre for Asia Aviation – an aviation consultancy.

Azran said corporate sales were on the rise for the airline and it was now flying executives from some big banks, oil and gas companies, global telecommunications firms and business travellers.

With service levels raised, the airline hopes to capture a bigger business traveller market.

The airline also wants to introduce flat beds for its long-haul flights at a more reasonable rate than full service carriers.

“We will even offer flat beds at US$1,000 one-way for our London flights and that is how we will shake the world,” he said. The airline is looking at doing that next year. As for destinations, AirAsia X has a whole list of points it wants.

They range from Australia to Asia, Middle East, Russia, Europe, Africa and even the transatlantic routes.

All this will be done as the airline gets delivery of newer planes this and next year.

“We are going to beat them with our newer planes, our flat beds and attractive fare pricing. It is going to be a very interesting landscape, going forward, and we do not think there is any LCC in this region that can emulate us,” he said.

AirAsia partners Universal Music

12 May 2009

AIRASIA is collaborating with Universal Music to promote the budget carrier's brand.

In line with its campaign, AirAsia will bring UK's fast-rising new girl band The Saturdays for a regional tour in July this year covering Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila.

"The deal with Universal Music is around RM300,000 to RM400,000 and we are getting more value promoting the airline along with the girls," said AirAsia group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes today.

"This partnership allows us to explore the dynamics of music marketing with a fresh perspective," said Universal Music group senior vice president Sandy Monteiro.
"We''re excited about this partnership, which will bring this fast-rising new girl band to AirAsia's many destinations," he said.

"With 122 routes and covering more than 65 destinations, AirAsia with its long-haul low-cost affiliate AirAsia X will permit even celebrities outside the country to travel with us," Fernandes said.

AirAsia is the leading largest low-cost carrier in Asia and services an extensive network with 122 routes covering more than 65 destinations

AirAsia launches Australia to KL F(r)ee Flights Promotion

12 May 2009

AirAsia is once again offering free seats on flights from Australia to Kuala Lumpur and across the carrier’s entire network.

The airline is inviting travellers to pay just the taxes and charges on flights to Malaysia from all three of its Australian destinations.

Passengers heading to Kuala Lumpur from the Gold Coast will pay from A$71 to cover taxes and charges and from A$82 for taxes and charges from Perth and Melbourne.

Travellers can also take advantage of free and special fares for AirAsia flights from Kuala Lumpur to more than 65 destinations across Asia. Passengers will be paying as little as A$12 to cover taxes and charges on flights from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu and A$19 to Bangkok, Phuket or Bali.

Free fares for AirAsia’s Australian routes will be released online May 13 at 2am (Australian Eastern Standard Time) and will be available until May 15 or sold out. Free fares for travel within Asia with AirAsia also are available until May 15 or sold out.

Free fares are valid for travel between January 5, 2010 and April 30, 2010.

AirAsia offers one million nearly free seats

12 May 2009

AirAsia will today launch a new promotion which sees passengers access one million seats on the carrier’s Malaysia and Thailand network, where they can travel by only paying the taxes and surcharges.

Dubbed the ‘You pay the fee, we fly you for FREE!’ promotion, AirAsia is offering seats from Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Penang in Malaysia, as well as Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand.

“This newest 1 million free seats promotion is initiated to honour our guests, for their utmost support and faith in our services all these years as without them, we would not have achieved anything,” said Kathleen Tan, AirAsia Regional Head of Commercial.

“Like previous occasions, our free seats campaign is always important in boosting tourist numbers and extends economic benefits brought on by tourism to every point connected by our extensive network.

“Our free seats promotion is also the catalyst for more travel as the current economic situation would prompt travellers to be smart with their travels plans and look for the best fares available,” she adds.

‘You pay the fee, we fly you for FREE!’ is available for booking online until this Friday, and is available for travel between the 5th of January, 2010 and the 30th of April, 2010.

AirAsia's forward-thinking marketing strategies key to success

12 May 2009

- It sponsors reality game show The Amazing Race Asia and F1 team AT&T Williams, recruits pilots through a blogging contest and stays in touch with customers via Facebook, Twitter and blog accounts.

AirAsia's quirky means of promotion has certainly helped make the airline a household name. Yet, barely eight years ago when it began operations, AirAsia had just two planes and a host of obstacles - Sars and the Sept 11 terrorist attacks included - preventing it from taking off.

Today, the Malaysia-based budget airline boasts a fleet of 80 aircraft that ply over 122 routes, with 480 flights to more than 65 destinations daily.

Group CEO Tony Fernandes has been instrumental in building the AirAsia brand. Known for its strong marketing and branding culture, AirAsia was recognised as one of Malaysia's 30 Most Valuable Brands in 2008, and also made it to US-based business magazine Fast Company's top 50 list of most innovative companies in the world last year.


Explaining the reason behind AirAsia's strong marketing culture, Kathleen Tan, its regional head of commercial, said: "Marketing reflects brand attitude and personality. We're bold, inspired and we encourage out-of-the-box thinking. We do things differently and do not submit to mediocrity."

She revealed that AirAsia's creative marketing input comes not only from its marketing team, but from staff, including pilots, engineers and ground crew.

She said: "When somebody comes up with a pioneering idea, we don't shoot it down and say: 'Oh, that's unconventional.' Instead, we play with the idea and find the best way to employ it to advance our brand or introduce new products and services."


In 2007, the new low-cost, long-haul affiliate of AirAsia was launched. Called AirAsia X, the first flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Gold Coast, Australia. In March this year, AirAsia X made its first flight to London, with the one-way fare as low as US$218 (RM784.4) .

Flights to Langkawi and Penang were announced recently, while plans are underway to fly to Taiwan.

To promote its brand and services to these locales, one marketing strategy AirAsia uses is brand association.

Tie-ups with some of the biggest global organisations - such as Manchester United Football Club - allow AirAsia to be associated with other brands "which add personality and ups the airline's cool factor", according to Ms Tan.

She added: "We're building our brand into the international market and brand association with the best global names help us. Such a branding strategy will instill trust and confidence in AirAsia as a leading player in the industry."


Last September, after Mr Fernandes attended three business conferences, he wrote on his blog: "The value of a brand is hard to quantify and investment in a brand is always hard to justify, but the last few weeks showed me how important it is and how our investment over the last six years has paid off handsomely."

He explained that after attending these conferences, he realised that AirAsia has since become synonymous with low cost travel.

"When we need to make new contacts, look for finances and build new relationships, it's much easier because everyone knows AirAsia. So, the extra revenue, time and cost savings can arise by promoting your brand," he wrote.

And that is why AirAsia has no plans to cut its marketing budget despite the downturn. On the contrary, Ms Tan says AirAsia sees the recession "as an opportunity for us to pull ahead of other airlines".

As Mr Fernandes said in the same blog post: "Don't worry about (the) economic slowdown. The best time to build a brand is when everyone else is cutting (their marketing budgets)."