SEPANG, March 1 ― AirAsia Group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes thanked the government for its support and endorsement of the low-cost airline and credited Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak personally for helping make the airline a world leader in the aviation sector.
Speaking at the official launch of RedQ, the airlines’ headquarters here, Fernandes said he and his airline would continue to stand by the Prime Minister and hoped that his continued support would see AirAsia reach greater heights.
“We have come a long way since we started with two planes 16-years ago. How have we done it? Great staff, great low-cost model but, most importantly, great government, great policies and a great leader who puts the people first.”
“Thanks to all your policies, which we are a firm supporter of, today I can present to you the people that erected this place, the place where AirAsia calls home,” he told the audience of over 2,000 employees and guests.
Fernandes said AirAsia and other Malaysian success in recent times were the results of the skillful stewardship of Najib, who he said was responsible for a booming economy and job opportunities for all Malaysians.
He said that under Najib the country had registered a GDP growth of 5.9 per cent, low unemployment at 3.3 per cent and 2.26 million jobs created since 2009, of which one million were high-income jobs.
“That is the kind of Malaysia we want to see ― a high income, highly skilled Malaysia, blazing the trail for Asean and beyond in the 21st century, and aspiring to be a top 20 nation by 2050 in line with Transformasi Nasional 50 (TN50).
“We have the ambition, we have the talent, we have the right leadership to steer the country and the economy. We’re now seeing the ringgit at 3.91 to the dollar and we’re loving it,” he said.
He added that capital from the sale of AirAsia’s aircraft leasing operations to BBAM Ltd Partnership for US$1.185bil (RM4.619bil) under its strategy of disposing non-core assets and businesses and focus on its core operations, would benefit the country’s economy.
“Sir, you will be pleased to know that just this morning, we sold our leasing company and that money coming home will boost the ringgit so that it better reflects the true strength and resilience of the Malaysian economy.”
Fernandes said the glowing figures could be measured by the ability of the country to reverse the “brain drain” it was experiencing by drawing back talented Malaysians who had previously left to work overseas.
“Your (Najib) policy of bringing Malaysians back to grow the talent base in Malaysia is something that we are enamoured with and our biggest drive in 2018 is talent acquisition and talent development.
“To that end, we have brought back Varun Bhatia from Kraft to drive this recruitment. I am happy to report that we have brought talent back from the top universities in the UK and US to enable transformation of AirAsia into a digital powerhouse,” he said.
Fernandes also said the airline had for the first time in aviation history began recruiting in the Middle East.
“For years and years, the Middle East took our talent and now I can report back that, with competitive wages and a high standard of living, we are bringing Malaysians home and international talent to Malaysia.
“We fully endorse your vision of Talent Corp and driving wages higher so we can attract the best talent to Malaysia,” he said.
Fernandes also said he aspired to meet the goals set by the prime minister in the empowerment of women and had made it company policy to provide equal opportunities for them without sacrificing meritocracy and performance.
“Sir, like you, we also strongly believe in empowering women. We were the first airline in Malaysia to have female pilots, and now they make up 5.5 per cent of all our pilots ― a higher ratio than in the US.
We have many capable women in top roles in the company, such as Aireen Omar, our Deputy Group CEO (Digital, Transformation and Corporate Services), our Group CFO Pattra, Siegtraund Teh, our Group Chief Commercial Officer, as well as Neelofa, the latest addition to our Board of Directors,” he said.
Najib, who was accompanied by Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, launched RedQ, the permanent and free standing headquarters of the airline, finally built after Fernandes acquired the heavily indebted airline on Dec 2, 2001 and successfully turned it around.
The headquarters itself was built by November 2016 with operations at the complex, located within sight of the KLIA 2 airport, commencing soon after.
Dubbed the “Best workplace in Malaysia”, RedQ includes 18,000 sq metres of space to house over 2,000 employees and includes a physiotherapy centre, a clinic, gym, several eateries and a three-storey spiral slide.