It all began with a dream
Back when AirAsia’s Group CEO, Tan Sri Dr. Tony Fernandes was a boarding school student in England, his dearest wish was to fly home to Malaysia during his half-term holidays.
Unfortunately, for the homesick adolescent, this simple desire remained out of reach. Flight tickets were prohibitively expensive back then, and regular visits home were out of the question.
So, young Tony dreamt of a day when a flight from London to Kuala Lumpur would be affordable enough for people to make the trip without worrying about cost. It was the first spark that instilled a deep desire to make air travel accessible to everyone.
It would take more than 30 years but this dream would become a reality in a way that Fernandes himself could not have imagined. He didn’t know it then but he would one day be the man who could honestly proclaim: Now Everyone Can Fly.
The one ringgit man
The true story of AirAsia is so incredible that it might have been lifted from a Hollywood movie.
Although Fernandes had that first notion for cheap flights between England and Malaysia back in boarding school, it was not a dream he pursued from the word ‘Go’.
He graduated from the London School of Economics, worked in finance for some time and then became a successful music executive.
Although not a businessman by profession, Fernandes certainly displayed business acumen when he foresaw a dim future for the music industry at that point. In a surprise move that foreshadowed his trademark spontaneity, Fernandes quit his job at the peak of his career.
It was around this time that he and a number of talented colleagues from the music business heard about an ailing airline, which belonged to a government-owned conglomerate. Together with partners Dato’ Pahamin Rejab (former chairman of AirAsia), Dato Kamarudin Meranun (present Deputy Group CEO, AirAsia), and Dato Aziz Bakar (present Chairman of AirAsia), Tony Fernandes founded Tune Air Sdn Bhd in 2001.
His vision was to democratise air travel and free it from the clutches of the elite by offering low fares and quality air travel. The four partners bought the then bleeding AirAsia from its Malaysian owner DRB-Hicom, for a token RM1 (USD 0.25cents), and agreed to take over the airline’s RM40 million debt!
Driven by Fernandes and his team of capable partners, AirAsia repaid that debt in less than two years – despite the fact that it was operating in an extremely challenging environment in the post-September 11, 2001, era. It started with two planes (Boeing 737-300s), one destination (Langkawi island) and a staff of just 250.
Fernandes remained unperturbed by what others believed to be an incredibly bad time to purchase an airline.
This was also the year the world witnessed the most horrifying tragedy in aviation history – the 9/11 attacks in the US. The future seemed decidedly bleak. Airlines across the world were retrenching employees, and travellers feared air travel. The entire aviation industry seemed on the verge of collapse.
Fernandes and his team saw this as a golden opportunity to revive the industry by introducing a brand new airline with an unusual business model.
The slump in the aviation industry steered many skilled and experienced industry workers to the fledgling airline. Expanding the fl eet of aircraft also proved to be cheaper than expected, as lease prices were at an all time low. It was the most opportune time to expand the airline with bigger and better plans for the future.
A success story
It is 10 years on and AirAsia will go down in the annals of global history as the airline that could. The carrier has come a long, long way from its modest beginnings. At last count, the airline has a fl eet of more than 104 aircraft.
Red and white AirAsia planes take off and land in more than 76 destinations worldwide, and cover 132 routes – 40 of which are offered exclusively. Along with its low-cost, long-haul affi liate, AirAsia X, AirAsia now connects people travelling through three continents namely Asia, Oceania and Europe.
Millions of passengers have been safely transported around the world and in October 2010, the carrier flew its 100 millionth guest – a young, Indonesian newlywed visiting her husband in India. At present, the fi gure exceeds 140 million guests.
AirAsia’s reputation as an excellent employer, where staff is considered to be part of the AirAsia family, has attracted top-notch personnel. There are currently about 10,000 people, collectively known as ‘AllStars’, in employment with the airline.
Awards & accolades
In less than a decade, AirAsia has transformed into a force to be reckoned with and the world has certainly taken notice. The budget carrier has won multiple awards such as The Best Asian Low Cost Carrier for 2010 by TTG and the Air Cargo Industry Newcomer of the Year Award, ACW World Air Cargo Awards.
The carrier has also won the prestigious World’s Best Low Cost Airline from Skytrax not just once but three consecutive times.
Skytrax is a London-based aviation consultancy and this award is especially respected, as it is based on the results of an Annual World Airline Survey that polls over 16 million air travellers from across the globe.
Everybody’s favourite airline
AirAsia’s modern, state-of-the-art aircraft fl eet, ever-expanding fl ight network, high flight frequencies along with easy-to-use booking systems and excellent services are some of the secrets of its extraordinary success.
The low-cost airline regularly tops everyone’s favourite list due to its comfortable yet affordable fl ight experience, which allows passengers to personalise their air travels with clever options like choosing their own meals and seats and, upsizing baggage.
It doesn’t hurt that the company has a remarkable aptitude for keeping up with the times and staying fun and fresh by initiating the latest and best technological advances in passenger services.
Over the past 10 years, AirAsia has marked hundreds of amazing milestones.
Some of the most outstanding include becoming the fi rst airline in the world to offer a total, comprehensive booking system targeting mobile phones and wireless devices in 2005. Two years later, AirAsia X, the long haul equivalent of AirAsia, was launched, allowing passengers to travel greater distances at lower costs.
In 2009, AirAsia set a new world record when it launched its 1 Million Free Seats campaign and 402, 222 seats were snapped up in 24 hours.
These fantastic feats are certainly attention-grabbers but it’s the carrier’s ongoing thoughtful passenger services and savvy innovations that have kept it well ahead of its peers – some of which have been in the industry far longer.
AirAsia is now the largest low-cost airline in Asia and the only truly ASEAN (The Association of South East Asian Nations) airline serving 600 million people in the region with 10 bustling hubs in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia along with a virtual hub in Singapore.
The sky’s the limit
As a globally recognised ASEAN brand, the sky’s the limit for AirAsia. Over the years, the company has retained unwavering focus on its vision to provide the lowest cost airfare and the highest possible quality of service for every guest that boards its aircraft.
AirAsia also offers affordably priced and even free tickets annually, which means that air travel is now a reality for people who previously only dreamt of, exotic, far-flung destinations.
While AirAsia’s amazing accomplishments, awards and accolades take centre stage, it can’t be denied that the true heart of this incredible tale lies in the people who make up the AirAsia workforce.
Every red and white aircraft that streaks across the sky is a reminder that passion and persistence have the power to defy logic and break through boundaries.
As AirAsia celebrates its 10th year, its success serves as an inspiration to anyone who has dared to envision a bigger, brighter future.
So, when things get tough, it’s good to remember that, one of the most successful airlines in the world began with a dream… and now everyone can fly.
Source: AirAsia Travel 360° Dec 2011 issue