SEPANG, Nov 22 — AirAsia Group Bhd is optimistic of its business growth in 2020 amid sustained travel demand coupled with economic headwinds and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

Group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said the company had grown in more than 20 years since founding the low-cost airline and would continue to offer affordable pricing.

“Travel has become a necessity. People will have holidays, people would want to migrate for work. My outlook would remain really positive. We see more growth, that is why we bought 300 aircraft.

“We are very optimistic,” he told reporters after welcoming AirAsia’s first Airbus A321neo from Hamburg, Germany here today.

Tourism Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi was also present.

Earlier this year, AirAsia converted 253 orders for the A320neo to the larger A321neo version, with a total of 353 aircraft on order, making AirAsia one of the world’s largest customers for the A321neo. The aircraft is now set to become the first to operate in Malaysia.

The A321neo is a member of the best-selling Airbus A320 Family incorporating the very latest technologies, such as new generation engines and Sharklets which together aim to deliver over 10 per cent in fuel savings.

Fernandes said the new aircraft allowed AirAsia to burn less fuel and be more sustainable.

“Profit will increase. We are looking for a strong year in 2020,” he added.

Asked whether the group planned to float its unit in the Philippines, Fernandes said it would wait for a fair valuation.

“The Philippines is our diamond in the rough because it exists in the border of China and Taiwan and a great connector to the east of America. We are doing great and we do not want to sell ourselves cheap,” he added.

The Philippines unit of AirAsia is postponing its initial public offering to next year or 2021 while it focuses on corporate reorganisation and seeking funds from existing shareholders.

The low-cost airline has been looking to go public and raise about US$200 million since 2015 but had shelved its plan several times because of weak markets and volatile oil prices.

Earlier in his speech, Mohamaddin said increasing flight connectivity from other destinations to Malaysia was one of the initiatives to boost arrivals into Malaysia and meet Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign targets.

“Indeed, AirAsia has contributed significantly towards the growth of tourism in Malaysia and with the addition of the AirAsia A321neo into its fleet which has an additional 50 seats as compared to the current Airbus A320 that AirAsia uses,” he added.

AirAsia will eventually replace the existing fleet of A320 and A320neo aircraft throughout the network covering Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Japan.

With 236 seats — a 27 per cent increase in capacity compared to AirAsia’s present fleet of A320 (180 seats) and A320neo (186 seats), the A321neo will be able to meet strong ongoing demand across the network with significant operational efficiencies and open up opportunities to explore new destinations, with more than 10 per cent fuel savings.

AirAsia Group currently operates a wholly Airbus Family fleet of aircraft, flying out of its hubs in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Japan. — Bernama