But in India, Tony has learnt the art of patience and perseverance. On February 19 last year, AirAsia announced its plans for an Indian airline through a tripartite joint venture with Tata Sons and private investor Arun Bhatia, who owns Telestra Tradeplace. The announcement was made after India allowed foreign carriers to pick up stakes in their Indian peers.
Subsequently, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy filed a court case against the proposal.
Swamy claimed the FDI policy was meant only for existing carriers and not new ventures. “The court case is preposterous as far as I am concerned. The Indian government made a rule (to allow FDI from foreign carriers). Then the government interpreted its own rule. Then it says ‘That’s not what we meant’. So it’s rubbish!” Tony wonders.
“Swamy is a politician. I am not. But I think politicians should look at both sides of the story and put people first,” he added.
When AirAsia applied to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for an operating permit, Indian carriers appealed to the regulator to not let the airline fly. The issues set back AirAsia’s launch by seven months.
In an interview to ET, Fernandes said the key lesson he has learnt in the last one-and-half year of waiting is perseverance. That sounds surprisingly calm for a man who until a few days openly blasted his detractors from his account on social networking site Twitter. He openly pointed to India’s biggest carrier IndiGo saying whatever the airline did to stop AirAsia only made it stronger.
“Don’t give up easily. Don’t get intimidated. I have learnt that the competitors (airlines in India) are old-fashioned monopolists. They want to protect their turf at all possible costs. I have never seen this before,” he said.
Fernandes has since de-activated his Twitter account.
His plans include making Bangalore an international aviation hub, forging a tie-up between his budget hotel unit and that of the Tatas and selling expensive sports cars in India.
“Bangalore could be another Dubai for AirAsia. I can bring tons of South east Asians over to Bangalore, change from Bangalore and go to London and Africa. There are tons of Southeast Asians who want to come to India,” the CEO of AirAsia Berhad said in an interview to ET.
AirAsia India has just started flying on three Indian routes. But Fernandes already has plans for it to operate international flights. That will happen when the government relaxes norms that require Indian airlines to have the experience of operating domestic flights for five years. The Malaysian carrier already operates flights to India from destinations such as Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Fernandes didn’t elaborate on how both operations would simultaneously work.
The previous government planned to do away with the 5/20 rule and airlines such as AirAsia and the Tata Sons’ other aviation venture with Singapore Airlines are appealing to the current government to carry the plans through. “I hope the 5/20 rule is changed. The Modi government has talked positively about tourism…. I am positive things will change for the better. The government should facilitate business. Let businessmen do business,” he said. More than a year back, Fernandes met Ratan Tata at the ultrapremium Valley Wing at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel to present a case for a joint airline in India. “When someone mentioned to me that we could potentially have AirAsia India and we had to find a partner, there was only one man and one company in my mind, Ratan Tata and the Tata Group,” he said.
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes plans to bring other businesses to India too