Indian carriers tried hard to stop Air Asias entry: Tony Fernandes

Written by Anand J | Ajay Sukumaran | Updated: Jul 4 2014, 16:06pm hrs
TonyAir Asia chief executive officer Tony Fernandes started with two aircraft in Malaysia and now runs a fleet of 160 aircraft globally
Air Asia chief executive officer Tony Fernandes started with two aircraft in Malaysia and now runs a fleet of 160 aircraft globally. In an interview with Anand J and Ajay Sukumaran of the Financial Express, Fernandes reveals how some Indian carriers tried hard to block his way. He also spoke on his first trip to father's home town in Goa. Excerpts:

It took you 14 months to start operations in India. Does that show how difficult it was to do a business here

I think Indian aviation sector is unique. I have never seen a group of airlines fight so hard to stop us anywhere in the world. I think thats bad for India. If I was an airline, I wouldnt have wasted time and effort trying to stop others, rather I would have been growing my business. The pie is so huge and there are many infrastructure issues to be addressed here. Other than that, doing business in India has not been any different from other places. What excites me most is the people. People want change and have welcomed us and their excitement made a 14-month wait worth it.

You said this is round one. What will we see in round two

I am in the ring now. I think reality will prevail on other guys soon and they will focus on their own businesses. I dont think anyone is going to waste their time and energy now trying to stop us. We are here to stay.

What are the things Indian airlines are doing wrong

One of the things they are doing wrong is wasting their time trying to stop us. They should be fixing their businesses. I am focussed on my business andI don't worry about what others are doing. People will come to you anyway. The market is huge. It is not about one, two or three airlines. India has got a billion people. And the number of planes in India is minuscule compared with the population.

You said 13 years ago, if someone said you would start in India, you would never have believed them. Is this your biggest challenge yet

It's my biggest dream. My dad is an Indian. I am a Malaysian, but I have Indian blood in me. I am going to my dad's hometown now and it is an emotional moment. It is the second biggest country in Asia and is a big deal for me. I love challenges and I have been challenged here. No one has made low-cost travel really work, so it would be an icing on the cake if I make it work.

Fourteen years ago, Air Asia went for an IPO within three years of operation.

I am not keen on IPOs for our subsidiaries anymore. I would rather be happy with the government allowing us to function like Vodafone in India, a 100% subsidiary. IPO is not in my plans.

Two days ago, you re-entered Japan. Is China on your radar

I reckon the Chinese airlines will make Indigo and SpiceJet look like pygmies. So I don't see myself, one Indian guy going there, and doing business amid so many Chinese airlines. If the government wants us there, I will be there at the drop of a hat.