AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes talks to a group of Filipino journalists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by Kathlyn dela Cruz, ABS-CBNnews.com
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes criticized airport authorities in the Philippines for their alleged "unfair" treatment on the low-cost airline.
"I don't think AirAsia is being treated fairly," Fernandes told a small group of Filipino journalists on Monday after the launch of AirAsia's newest service, the Premium Flex.
He believes AirAsia is being "blocked" to prevent it from growing in the country.
"I think big airlines put a lot of pressure on airport authorities," he said.
For one, Fernandes said almost all of the airline's flights are only allowed to operate at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 4, or the old Manila Domestic Airport.
Only Incheon and Jingjiang flights are allowed to operate at NAIA Terminal 3.
Despite operating at the old airport, he said AirAsia still has to pay the same fees as those who operate in Terminal 3, which should clearly be not the case due to the different service that they get, he said.
"It is just not right. AirAsia and my Filipino partners have invested a fortune, and we are creating lots of jobs. Really, we are being treated third class," Fernandes said.
"It's not right. I feel very bad for my staff. I don't mind operating in Terminal 4, but then charge us appropriately."
"If I'm in a Shangri-La Hotel, I pay Shangri-La Hotel rates. If I'm in Tune Hotel, I pay Tune Hotel rates. Terminal 4 is a Tune Hotel," he stressed, comparing the luxury hotel with the group's budget hotel chain.
Fernandes also lamented the "unfair" grounding of then Zest Air, now AirAsia Zest, by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) back in August last year.
The CAAP ordered the suspension of operations of Zest Air due to various safety violations.
Fernandes had said then that he was horrified by the CAAP's order of suspension, noting that competitors were already getting "terrified" of AirAsia.
The AirAsia Group CEO said he would like to meet with Philippine government officials President Benigno Aquino III, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya to air and discuss his grievances.
"The industry cannot be controlled by one airline," he said, although he did not name the particular airline.
"Competition is fine, but competition must be fair. And airports must be fair," he said.
'We will fight'
Despite the struggles in getting operation approvals in the Philippines, Fernandes still vowed to "fight."
He said AirAsia Philippines is planning to launch more routes this year, such as Manila to Japan and Manila to Bangkok flights.
Aside from operating a low-cost airline, Fernandes said he is also eyeing to build a low-cost hospital in the Philippines, noting the massive gap between private and state hospitals.
"We can create a hospital that costs a little bit more than the government so a lot of people can afford it," he said.
This way, below middle-class patients would get to experience better service without having to pay much, he said.
Moreover, the country can then tap its own talents -- doctors, nurses, and medical staff.
This, he said, is what he has been trying to do with AirAsia Philippines: open new opportunities for the Filipino people.
"The saddest thing I've ever done in the Philippines is there are so much great people I have to leave. And that's why I'm so frustrated. I want to create jobs. I want to grow tourism. But I'm being blocked everywhere."
"I ain't gonna give up. I love the Philippines. It's a fantastic place. Boracay is the most beautiful place I've ever been in the world. Palawan is amazing. Think of how many jobs an airline like AirAsia create," Fernandes said.