Why Tony Fernandes is bullish on Philippines

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 21 2015 02:00 PM | Updated as of Jun 21 2015 10:00 PM

Why Tony Fernandes is bullish on Philippines 1
Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of AirAsia, shares a laugh with Philippines' AirAsia CEO Joy Cañeba during a roundtable interview at the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, Le Bourget. Courtesy of AirAsia

PARIS -- AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes says he is most bullish about the Philippines among Southeast Asian countries.

"This is an amazing country. Every time I go there, I love it even more. In ASEAN, Philippines is probably the best economy right now. In past years, you've lagged behind but because of political reforms, openness, you are catching up with the best economies... Philippines is the one I keep telling people about during conferences, the one I'm most bullish about in ASEAN," Fernandes told reporters at the sidelines of the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget last week.

However, Fernandes lamented that the Philippines hasn't been able to attract as many tourists as its ASEAN neighbors like Malaysia and Thailand.

"Philippines has 2 million tourists, Malaysia has 20 million tourists. Something's not right. You have a beautiful country. You have so much more to offer than Malaysia. We think we can contribute to that," he said.

Fernandes noted the Philippines has a lot of tourism potential, which the airline can help develop.

"You have some of the best beaches in the world... People need to know more about the Philippines, it's an undiscovered secret. People know Bali, Phuket, Langkawi but Philippines has so much more to offer," he said.

The AirAsia CEO also said the budget carrier, which is the largest in Asia, isn't aiming to beat Cebu Pacific in the Philippines.

"To be honest, there's no bad thing in being a strong number two. I don't think we will overtake Cebu Pacific. Reality is we never went there to be a market leader. We wanted to develop the market in the Philippines, create jobs and do the things that Cebu Pacific aren't doing. We see a lot of opportunities," he said.

While AirAsia Philippines has yet to turn a profit since it started operations in 2011, Fernandes said he expects the unit to post a profit in the fourth quarter.

"I think Q4 this year but hopefully, we can try to do it earlier," he said.

AirAsia's Philippine unit is also eyeing an IPO by 2017.

At the same time, Fernandes downplayed the drop in AirAsia shares in Malaysia last week.

The stock price plunge was triggered by HK-based GMT Research's report which questioned AirAsia's reliance on affiliates’ profits which, it said, the parent company cannot collect.

"The market is the market. It brings all kinds of people who will exploit situations, push stock price down, buy cheap, whatever. That's the market. I'm not here to manipulate or worry about my stock price. I'm here to deliver good results, good company," he said.

Airbus deal

Meanwhile, AirAsia signed a new deal with Airbus for the "smarter fleet" electronic flight folder (EFF). The EFF is said to bring paperless flight operations a step closer to becoming reality.

EFF is a comprehensive software application that allows pilots to access their briefing package on-board the aircraft, or from home, the hotel, or the crew briefing room.

"With the latest solutions being offered by Airbus, we can reduce paper in the cockpit, enhance overall efficiency and ensure that we maintain the very highest standards of safety and operational excellence," Fernandes said.

He said th new EFF was not a response to the AirAsia Indonesia plane crash last December, but had already been in the works for the last two years.

"We have to keep looking at ways to make things safer and eliminate risk... It will help in being a safer airline but its not a reaction to what happened in Indonesia," Fernandes said.