Thursday, August 27, 2020

AirAsia's Tony Fernandes: we will come out of pandemic much stronger than before

Chief executive of Asia's largest low-cost airline talks exclusively with 'The National' about the worst crisis he has ever faced and how the company is building up its digital businesses across e-commerce, food and FinTech

The airline business has never been more precarious than it is right now during a global pandemic that has resulted in closed borders and depressed travel.

The group chief executive of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, has had a particularly difficult time of it.

In April, some reports speculated that the airline would be lucky to survive five months given the impact of Covid-19 on aviation.

Dressed casually, he exudes a relaxed air, even with the lack of proximity in a video call last week with The National. Mr Fernandes is sanguine despite what he has been through.

“Without a doubt” this is the worst crisis he has faced since he took over AirAsia almost 20 years ago, he says.

“Can you imagine that at one stage 96 per cent of aircraft [worldwide] were on the ground? That’s just unthinkable.

"AirAsia had 275 planes sitting, doing nothing. I mean, that's nothing I would have ever imagined.”

On Tuesday, a week after we speak, AirAsia reported a record quarterly loss, underlining the extent of the pain felt by the group in April, May and June.

What the overall experience adds up to, he says, is that he is learning how to survive in a pandemic.

“We’ve learnt to survive in Sars, we learnt to survive in bird flu, we learnt to survive in tsunamis and earthquakes and political changes in government," Mr Fernandes says.

"This is something else but we'll survive it. We're still around, right? The pandemic started in January. We're going into September. We’re flying, we’re paying people. We’ve done all right so far.”
27/08/20 Mustafa Alrawi/National
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