Welcome to the world of Anthony Francis Fernandes. In 2001, the man who spent much of his youth studying in England and playing schoolboy rugby, got out of a great career in the music business to plunge into a dream of running an airline. He mortgaged his house and, together with some friends and investors, bought AirAsia. Back then it was then a moribund Malaysian operation that cost 1 ringgit ($0.28) and brought with it 40 million ringgit in debt and two Boeing 737-300 aircraft. He proclaimed that he would start Asia’s first proper low-cost operation, and met polite smiles and condescending nods. He was seen as a maverick, who would crash and burn trying to take on the Malaysian and Southeast Asian airline and airport establishment. He has proven everyone wrong.
AirAsia is now the region’s largest low-cost operator, with a network of 122 routes covering more than 65 destinations. It has carried over 65 million passengers since its inception and grown its fleet to 80 aircraft. It has gone public, ordered 175 Airbus A320s, started associates in Indonesia and Thailand, and finally secured access to Singapore after overcoming various obstacles. Fernandes and AirAsia have also helped to start AirAsia X, a long-haul, low-cost airline that has 25 Airbus A330s on order and will imminently sign a deal for around 25 Airbus A350s.