AirAsia group chief Tony Fernandes has said it is hard to do business in India due to protectionist policies and “vested interests”, but his joint venture carrier, AirAsia India, is here for a long haul.


Defending the slow-paced growth of AirAsia India, he said the aviation sector here was a “double marathon” and not a “sprint”.


I am not going to storm in like a bull in a China shop as Vijay Mallya did and get caught. Now, we have a (civil aviation) policy and it is very clear on what we have to do. So, talk to us in a few years time,” he told PTI when asked about growth plans.


Observing the government has “at least delivered 80 per cent of what it talked about” in the draft aviation policy, he said: “it is hard (to do business) in India (as) there are so many vested interests trying to keep some of the incumbents happy”.


“So, at least they changed it (norm for international flying by domestic carriers) and we are clear what we need to do. And, I would not be dead by the time five years come along, with the 20 aircraft we had before,” the AirAsia (Berhad) group chief executive officer told PTI, on the sidelines of the Farnborough International Airshow in the UK last week.


Fernandes, also among the pioneers of the low-cost airline model in Asia, minced no words in criticising the Indian government for “protectionism in the skies”, while praising the new aviation policy, particularly doing away of the 5/20 norm.


“Don’t protect airlines. Get more air traffic rights, get more tourism into India and create more jobs. I think the Modi government has to be brave in going all the way and getting rid of vested interests and protectionism.”


To questions on AirAsia India’s slow progress as compared to its peer group, he said there was no clarity earlier on the policy.


“This is not a sprint; this is a marathon. India is a double marathon. We have been smart, we are cautious, we built it slowly.”


“Look at how quickly we grew. I started with two planes in Malaysia. But, I did not have a 5/20 rule. I was not sued every day. I did not have Naresh Goyal on my back. How long have I been in India? Two years. How long has the government of India been around? You have been a country long time, right? Wait, patience. Must not rush,” Fernandes said.


AirAsia India, started operations in June 2014. It’s co-owned by Tata Sons (49 per cent) and AirAsia Berhad (49 per cent). Other two per cent is held by board members, S Ramadorai and R Venkataramanan. The airline flies to 10 domestic destinations, with a fleet of six Airbus A320 aircraft.


“I have to congratulate (the government)… It (doing away with 5/20 rule) is a good step forward for Indian aviation and hopefully most of the measures (proposed in the policy) will be going to be enforced,” Fernandes said.

“We (AirAsia) would love to go to many more Indian cities but Indian government is not giving us any more route rights at the moment. So, I think that is something the government has to look at.”