Monday, August 24, 2009

Malaysia's AirAsia expands to Mideast in November

19 August 2009

Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia said Wednesday it will launch flights to Abu Dhabi in November, marking its first foray into the Middle East.

The new Kuala Lumpur-Abu Dhabi route, operated by the carrier's long-haul affiliate AirAsia X, will begin Nov. 23 with five weekly flights in time for the peak travel season for Muslims, it said in a statement.

AirAsia X Chief Executive Azran Osman-Rani said it indicated the group's expansion plans were on track despite the global economic slump.

The airline sees a potentially lucrative market in Abu Dhabi, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates with a population of 2 million -- of which more than 80 percent are frequent traveling expatriates, he said.

"We believe our low fares will help to stimulate and trigger new travel demand, and will help to boost tourism potential on both ends," he said.

The carrier is offering a promotional fare of 99 ringgit ($28) for a one-way ticket, which is exclusively available online Aug. 20-26 for travel between Nov. 23 and July 31, 2010.

AirAsia X, which began long-haul operations in November 2007, currently flies from Kuala Lumpur to London, Australia, Taiwan and China.

Airlines worldwide are suffering as the economic slump cuts demand for air travel.

Air Asia X talks with Mideast buyers for stake sale-CEO

19 August 2009

ABU DHABI - AirAsia's (AIRA.KL) long-haul, low-cost unit is in talks with Middle Eastern investors, including sovereign wealth funds, to sell an equity stake in the carrier, Air Asia X head Azran Osman-Rani said on Wednesday.

"We need a stronger equity base after 2010," Osman-Rani told reporters, as the airline launched direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to the United Arab Emirates' capital, Abu Dhabi.

"There has been interest from investors in the Middle East, including institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds."

He declined to specify who the carrier was in talks with, saying only "there are discussions."

The stake amount will be decided next year, he said.

Air Asia launches Kuala Lumpur, Colombo flights

19 August 2009

Air Asia, the world's best low-cost Airline launched its daily direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Colombo yesterday.

High Commissioner of Malaysia in Sri Lanka Rosli Ismail told a gathering at the Hilton Colombo yesterday that the commencement of daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and Sri Lanka was a timely decision as Sri Lanka has entered a new era having successfully ended the war on terrorism.

He said that with the greater connectivity from Air Asia around the world in which Malaysia is one of the low cost carrier hubs, it would play a greater role in boosting the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.

Malaysia will encourage more companies to invest in Sri Lanka and will participate in the economic development specially in areas where Malaysia has the know-how and expertise such as infrastructure development, telecommunications, oil and gas industry. Malaysia will strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, he said.

The High Commissioner said the number of Sri Lankan tourists to Malaysia has increased significantly - nearly 35 percent over the past two years.

In 2008, 42,774 Sri Lankans visited Malaysia compared to 31,733 in 2007.

The number of Malaysian tourists to Sri Lanka too increased from 12,737 in 2007 to over 15,000 in 2008. He hoped that in the years to come the number of Malaysians visiting Sri Lanka will increase with the commencement of Air Asia's daily flights from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur.

Group Chief Executive Officer AirAsia Tony Fernandes said that the airline has sold nearly 30,000 seats during the past two months and it is a clear testament that Air Asia's low fares have empowered people to fly.

Letters: AirAsia apologizes

18 August 2009

PT Indonesia would like to apologize to all guests for the delay of flight QZ7496 that occurred on Aug. 9 in Medan. The flight was intended to depart to Jakarta, from Polonia Airport, Medan, Indonesia at 4.30 p.m. Due to a warning signal detected by our system, the flight was rescheduled to 7 p.m. to be evaluated, and at 8.30 p.m. it was confirmed that the flight was canceled. At that moment 80 passengers were waiting to board.

When a problem occurs with an aircraft, AirAsia's policy is to prioritize, at the highest level, the safety of our guests. Because of this, the crew decided to check the aircraft for the problem and repair whatever fault there was. When we discovered the fault could not be fixed by that time, we decided to cancel the flight rather than risk anything untoward happening to our guests.

While our guests were waiting for the fault to be fixed, we provided them with meals. Subsequently, when we decided to cancel the flight we tried our very best to put our guests on the flights of other airlines back to Jakarta. Unfortunately at that time there were no flights available.

We then transported our guests and put them up for the night at several appointed hotels at our expense, and managed to get them booked on the several flights back to Jakarta the next morning. IAA wishes to emphasize that we strictly followed all the conditions stipulated in regulation KM 25 year 2008, throughout this incident. We once again would like apologize to our guests for the inconvenience, but we would also like to emphasize that the decision to cancel the flight was made with their safety in mind.

Furthermore, an amount of refunds has also been given to passengers who agreed on the latter

Phuket Boost as Air Asia Plans More Flights

16 August 2009

PHUKET will be an international hub for Air Asia by the end of the year, the CEO of Thai Air Asia, Tossapon Bijleveld, said in Phuket on Friday.

While other, older airlines were struggling, Air Asia passengers increased by 20 percent in the first half of 2009, he told a business conference at Royal Phuket City Hotel in Phuket City.

Seventy percent of customers were expats, Khun Tossapon added. As many as 85 percent of bookings were now made online.

'That's our big advantage,'' he said. ''We don't have high costs so we can offer better value in the price of tickets.''

New aircraft were on order, and the additions to the fleet would give Air Asia the opportunity to fly direct from Phuket to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Guangzhao in China, and Bali and Medan in Indonesia.

He would also like to fly daily direct from Phuket to Chinag Mai, to open up travel between the north and south in Thailand.

In terms of marketing, he said that Air Asia had become well known in Europe through its association with the Manchester United football club.

The airline's relationship with sporting clubs would be expanded to the US, Australia and Japan.

Takeup rates for the internet throughout Asia showed Korea and Japan among the highest level, above 70 percent, with the takeup rate of 20 percent in Thailand and just 10 percent in Indonesia indicating plenty of room for expansion.

Air Asia is offering a 750 baht promotion for people to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to visit the cute baby panda, and the ticket can be used to gain discounts at resorts, too.

That's typical of where the Malaysian based airline is leading the industry, with Air Asia especially keen to become the airline for travel from one part of South East Asia to another.

''Phuket can have tourism but you need airline support to make sure the routes are open to bring them in,'' he said. ''Packaged promotions will give visitors financial advantages.

''Once we open up Phuket to the large population centres in the region, improvements in growth should be seen rapidly.''

Although the Internet is vital to Air Asia's business, the airline opened an office in Patong earlier this year and plans to open another in Phuket City later this year.

CHARTER flights were coming as usual this green season, Somboon Jirayus, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, told the conference, using the term ''green'' rather than ''summer.''

The popular Australian discount airline,Virgin Blue, will fly to Phuket twice a week from April next year, he said. Virgin Blue flies the Perth-Bali route up to five times a day.

Up close and personal

15 August 2009

AZRAN Osman-Rani unabashedly confesses that he gets distracted and bored quite easily, which he has self diagnosed as ADD (attention deficit disorder)! It’s a mighty challenge, he admits, to focus on anything for long and he constantly needs to be occupied to keep him going. And by that, he means he persistently craves new challenges. Indefatigable, indeed.

“I am more at ease when I have many things to do. If you do not give me anything to do, I can become very edgy and restless … I will go crazy,” Azran says.

It’s little wonder then that the AirAsia X chief executive officer revels in the high-paced, high-pressure airline industry.

“There is enough challenge here,” he says.

“In the first year, it was all about starting the company, then it was about getting new planes, then expanding the fleet size and routes. It’s been crazy.”

His career path in the turbulent sector began two years ago with a phone call, not just from anyone but from Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, founder of low cost carrier AirAsia, whose triumphs in the industry are only too well documented.

Azran was then a senior director at Astro All Asia Networks plc. Suffice to say he got an earful of Tony’s pitch about AirAsia X; he wanted Azran to head the airline, which at that point, had only one aircraft and a bold business plan.

“The one thing that got me hooked was when Tony said ‘people think this cannot be done’. I thought – ‘wow, everyone in the world says this model can’t work’. That made me want to do it even more. I jumped at the opportunity and took a huge pay cut to join the team,” he recalls.

Despite the past year being one of the global airline industry’s worst times, the low cost long haul carrier has steadily increased its routes over that period. It’s not done yet of course.

Sports is Azran's past time when he's not working

“We are flying into new markets to secure more routes,” he says.

It has not been smooth sailing all the way. More recently, temperatures flared when the airline was denied the rights to fly to Sydney and Seoul.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Azran. But there’s no time to sulk. The company is moving on and as Azran says, there are many other opportunities out there.

When the StarBizWeek interviewed him recently, he had just returned from the Middle East. Sporting a red T-shirt and jeans, he enthuses that AirAsia X is keen on the Mid-East market and expects to launch some routes to the region by year-end.

How does a guy like Azran, with an insatiable thirst for the get-go, pass time when he’s not working? Why, sports of course.

“It’s important to release stress. Otherwise, the stress can build up and you will explode,” he says.

Azran is passionate about running marathons. When he can, he runs a 5km circuit around the Klang Valley on Sunday mornings.

He takes pride in having managed to complete the 42km Gold Coast Airport Marathon in Australia last month. He has also signed up to run in several international marathons in the months ahead, namely the Borneo International Marathon and Melbourne Marathon in October and Hangzhou Marathon in November.

In high school, he was a serious field hockey player. But when he went to the United States for his tertiary education, he discovered that field hockey was regarded as a “girl’s game” and that “real men played ice hockey.”

Soon, he found a new passion – the ultimate frisbee. Ultimate frisbee is relatively new to Malaysians but Azran is keen to build its following. He spends Saturday mornings at Kolej Bandar Utama coaching students in the sport.

Besides, spending time with youths makes him “feel young and sane”, says the father of three boys. Azran is married to Azreen Pharmy, a former news anchor with Astro.

Azran’s background in engineering comes handy at work, as he says it is not easy for the engineers to fool him by giving excuses for any technical problem that crop up in the aircraft.

“I get very upset when people don’t know what they are doing. When someone tells me something is wrong, I will keep on asking them why. This is how we figure out the root cause of the problem,” he explains.

Azran considers himself to be an accessible and engaging boss.

“I am open to new ideas. I do not have as much experience in the aviation industry to claim to be an expert. I also want to create opportunities for our staff.”

“Look at our team. It is small, but it’s diverse,” he says.

Azran says he learnt about the value of diversity from Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan while working under the latter in Astro.

“We should actively seek to form a diverse team that cuts across racial and gender barriers. We have way too many monotonous companies. Just look at the top 50 listed companies, open their annual reports and take note of their management team. Most of the time, they are either very Malay, or very Chinese,” Azran says.

The two gadgets he never leaves home without – his Blackberry and laptop. And this – he’s got a “bucket list”.

“In my laptop, I have a list of things to do before I die,” Azran says, such as personal goals, and those in relation to health, finance and family.

Not surprisingly, one of the things in the list is to fly a plane. With that in mind. Azran is currently trying out the flight simulator.

And surprisingly, Azran wants to be a stand up comedian, to be on stage in front of thousands and make them laugh.

Clearly, an optimist, he says: “The best things have yet to happen.”