Bhatia, an Indian shareholder, wants to opt out of AirAsia India while Tata wants to increase its stake in the airline.

KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia supremo Tony Fernandes has dismissed media reports that all is not well in his paradise in India. “All publicity is good, even bad publicity.”

Fernandes implied that The Economic Times of India (ET), in particular, was trying to pummel him into the ground and pitting him against shareholders in India. “It is really an Indian shareholder thing because we cannot increase our shareholding,” he told ET in a Q&A interview. 

“We can’t increase our shareholdings in India. If one of the shareholders wants to opt out, they can sell to the existing Indian shareholders.

“The Economic Times newspaper has been hammering us all the time. All I know is that things are going to be resolved very soon.”

He was referring to reports that Bhatia, an Indian shareholder, wanted to opt out of AirAsia India and that Tata wants to increase its stake in the airline. “That you have to ask the Tatas. We had a recent board meeting in Kuala Lumpur. All I can say is that you can ask the Tatas themselves. I think they are very happy with how AirAsia India was going.”

Fernandes added that he was not deterred by India’s 5/20 rule. According to the “5/20 rule”, all airlines in India are permitted to fly abroad only if they have five years of domestic flying experience and at least 20 aircraft in their fleet. “The Prime Minister of India mentioned that he did not want this policy. I have heard it personally from many people. India has become a very pro-market country. But, this is no-pro market.”

It was always going to be tough, conceded Fernandes. “There has been a very powerful lobby that has set sights on AirAsia. But we have been there before, done that before. India is a one billion plus market. It has a pro-business government. I just had a fantastic meeting with the Prime Minister and I remain optimistic.”

On the operational side, Fernandes pointed at the plus factors like jet fuel going down from USD80 per barrel to USD50 per barrel. “In December, we made money. That’s a big start. We made money at USD80. Today, it’s under USD50. That is a big plus. Our load factors are very good. Our brand has been well accepted.”


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