TOKYO, July 1: 

AirAsia Group will take a major step towards becoming a global airline with its return to Japan from next year.

Group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes today projected that AirAsia Japan would likely become the biggest contributor to the budget airline group within the next few years as it formed a cornerstone for the network’s global aspirations.

“With Japan, we don’t only need to limit ourselves to Asia. Flights to Vancouver in Canada and Hawaii and the US west coast are now possible. This means we’re well on our way towards becoming a global airline.”

Outlining his long-term vision for the carrier, he said that Europe and Africa were definitely still within AirAsia’s outlook.

“To be a global airline, we definitely need to see how we can go back to Europe. Our India operations now give us a base that closer there. Japan and India are key for us as they can be launching pads for expansion beyond Asia.

“We may be looking at another venture in Eastern Europe. But for Africa, we’d just be flying there rather than setting up AirAfrica, even though we’ve had invitations from about 20 African nations already. Our focus remains Asia and that’s already a big enough market for us.”

Fernades quipped that he’d like to have AirAsia link up to South America as well so that “I can go kick a football at Rio (de Janeiro) at the Copacabana beach. But I don’t see that happening in my lifetime”.

Fernades said that the return to Japan was mainly because it was now possible to have just one chief running the operations rather than two airlines with different cultures.

“We’re working with consumer focused people, just like how our joint ventures are like in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and India. These new partners are very entrepreneurial and ready to challenge the market in ways that AirAsia wants to. I believe we can be really successful this time round.”

He further said that the Japanese market would enhance AirAsia’s existing network in Asia.

“Sapporo is the closest ski resort to Asia and I believe many will want to fly there with us to see the snow.

“Also, the Japanese are known to be innovative in products and business strategies. With our new partners, I believe that AirAsia Japan can enhance the network with other products like food catering and also duty-free shopping.

“I’ve always wanted a cosmetics brand to be part of the AirAsia Group and we’ll have that with Noevir.”

Noevir Holdings Co Ltd is a Japanese firm specialising in cosmetics and energy drinks. Other AirAsia Japan investors are sportswear firm Alpen Co Ltd, online mall and travel agency Rakuten Inc and private equity firm Octave Japan Co Ltd.

Fernandes said Octave was one main reason why he’s so confident on the latest Japanese venture.

“We have been literally parked at their office since we came here and I think it’s time we found another office,” he joked.

As for Rakuten, Fernandes said the friendship began when he met the chief executive officer Hiroshi Mikitani during a QPR-Manchester City match in London.

“We became friends and this venture just took off from that start.”