Soaring high into open skies

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on January 27, 2019

Suresh Nair, General Manager, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, AirAsia Group

The Open Skies agreement with carriers from the Association of South East Asian countries (ASEAN) announced by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003 has seen Malaysia-based Air Asia’s operations in India grow from four flights a week in 2008 to 135 flights a week to 13 cities now. Suresh Nair, General Manager, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, AirAsia Group, feels that the agreement has been a win-win proposition. Excerpts from an interview he gave Ashwini Phadnis:

How would you trace AirAsia’s growth in India?

We started with Tiruchi in 2008, which was one of the 13 cities where ASEAN carriers could operate without bilaterals. Our major boost happened in 2009. We started with Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram and then Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Delhi and Mumbai were operated by AirAsia X.

Was the expansion a result of the Open Skies Agreement with ASEAN?

It was not totally tied to ASEAN as we had to fly to the metros - and those were not covered by this agreement. If you see the cities we operate to – Jaipur, Vizag, Amritsar… the idea is to bring in tourists. We fly into over 135 destinations in the Asia-Pacific and we promote all the 13 Indian destinations all over our network. It is in our interest to bring in as many tourists as possible so that there is a balance in the business.

AirAsia is a leisure- and travel-focussed airline. We have shown that destinations can be built by airlines.

What role has the Open Skies agreement played?

As regards ASEAN, it has been a bonus for us. If I am not mistaken, Tiruchi has had the biggest growth in air traffic in terms of the number of flights and passengers carried. We built it - and then others like Tiger Airways, Malindo wanted to fly. Now it is a buzzing airport. When we started, there was one international airline, now we fly four times a day into Tiruchi from Kuala Lumpur.

It was the same in Kochi. There were west-bound flights to Dubai and other places, but nothing going east. We still remain the only carrier to operate from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur three times a day into Kochi.

The AirAsia Group has probably used the Open Skies the best among all the ASEAN carriers.

AirAsia has positioned itself as the ASEAN carrier in India for all practical purposes. Now 13 cities in India are connected to the smallest points all over ASEAN with a one-stop connection. You can fly from Kochi to Vientiane in Laos via Kuala Lumpur. Nobody can give ASEAN like AirAsia can because of the connectivity that we have. I think it has benefited both.

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Published on January 27, 2019
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