AirAsia chief wants rules tweaked for domestic airlines

Tony FernandesAirAsia chief Tony Fernandes has demanded that India shed its ''bizarre'' policy of confining local carriers to domestic routes for five years if the country's aviation market is to prosper.

AirAsia, which is looking to leverage JV partner Tata Group's experience in handling politico-economic situations in the country, also flayed Janata Party leader Subramanyam Swamy for his comments that the AirAsia-Tata Group agreement was a sham.

Fernandes said the existing 'five years and 20 aircraft' rule before an Indian airline is allowed to go abroad does not make sense. "Probably Naresh (Goyal) or someone put it down."

''These are bizarre rules ... that you can't fly abroad before five years and 20 aircraft. ... That rule makes no sense. It is a negative for the Indian airlines,'' he said.

''I, with a one-plane airline in Malaysia, can fly to India,'' he pointed out, adding, ''India is the only country which has such a rule.''

He said it is vested interests that are holding up the growth of the Indian airline industry.

''It is a shame that India has lost many years. See what new airlines in the region have done. India has lost because of vested interests even though it has a lot of talent and economic activities.''

If there can be 100 per cent FDI in telecom sector that affects almost all people in the country, why can't there be full foreign ownership in the aviation sector? Fernandes asked.

''The government should tell the people that aviation is good for the people.''

''Most of these negativities come from within the industry and ultimately fails the people. ... It is an incredibly self-interested industry,'' he said.

Fernandes said AirAsia would try to keep airfares at the minimum by keeping charges for the various services also at the minimum, adding, ''There is no such thing as free. There is no free food. If you want a nicer seat, pay for it.''

He also said the government has no business to run a great airline like Air India only to accumulate losses. He said the government should hand it over to a private operator if the airline is to operate profitably.

He said it was bad competition that led to the failure of Deccan Airlines, which was priced out of the market.

"Vijay Mallya and Naresh said we have cash... let's make him lose cash." And down went Gopinath!

Fernandes, who heads Southeast Asia's biggest budget carrier, hopes to start airline operations from October. The company has already applied for a no-objection certificate, he said.

AirAsia, with operations in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, hopes to cash in on the expansion of the Indian market, which has a 1.2-billion strong flyer base.