Davos: Hopeful of launching flights in India in next two to three months, AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes has said that the airline would introduce 'dramatically' low fares in the country, which would be cheapest in the market and take air travel to masses. Fernandes, who is in Davos for World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, said that AirAsia India is fully prepared from its side for the launch and is waiting for final government approvals that should come soon and help it begin flights by March-April this year.
"I think we are coming very close and March-April should be time when we should begin the India operations," the Malaysia-based airline major AirAsia's Chief Executive Officer told PTI in an interview. AirAsia has partnered with Tata group and Arun Bhatia-led Telstra Tradeplace for AirAsia India, which is looking to run low-cost passenger airline service in the country.
Fernandes said that all preparatory work has been completed by the company for launch of its flights and it is just waiting to "open the sale" of the tickets. Known to have revolutionised the airline market in Malaysia and some other Asian countries through low-cost airfares, AirAsia chief said that the strategy for India would be to offer "cheapest" possible tickets.
"We have to be the cheapest and stimulate the market. We have to allow the common man to fly. That is my message to the Indian government and the state governments that flying is not only for the rich," he said. "What I want to say is that flying is a great economic driver and to get more people flying, we have to reduce the costs. This may be hard for the state governments, because aviation fuel tax is a good cash cow, but if you see in medium to long term, the benefits of flying are huge. You can see the success in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and many other places and we can do the same in India as well," Fernandes said.
High taxes and other costs have been a major reason for AirAsia thinking to start its domestic flights in India with Chennai as a hub and not the bigger centres like Delhi and Mumbai. Expressing optimism, Fernandes said that some state governments are open to the idea of lowering air travel costs and more states are looking at this.
When asked whether people should expect dramatically low prices at the time of launch of flights in India, which AirAsia has done in other markets, Fernandes replied in affirmative. "Expect that from us. We are dramatic when it comes to pricing and we will do the same in India," Fernandes said.
Asked whether he was also optimistic about AirAsia India soon going pan-India with its flight operations, Fernandes
said, "Give me some time. India is like a continent. It is not one state. So, give me some time. I don't want to lie and say that we would be pan-India by so and so date."
On whether he intended to take AirAsia India to pan-India level, he said, "Of course, we want to. If you want to go to India, you would want to go everywhere in India. But it will happen in due course as we must do it properly. But patience is important as many have tried to do it too fast and they have failed."
Asked about Tata group forming another airline venture with Singapore Airlines, in addition to the one with AirAsia, Fernandes said, "I am sure there will be some crossover (of business), but Tata-SIA would focus more on full service carrier market, while AirAsia would create an entirely new category for itself." He also said that existing low-cost carriers in India were kind of in both categories - budget and full service airline services - and some of them have started going into higher ends of markets by putting in business class seats and offering certain upmarket services.