Kuala Lumpur-based low cost airline AirAsia is exploring the possibility of shifting its operational base in India from Chennai to Kochi. If everything goes well, the low cost air services operator will launch its services on November 1, Kerala Formation Day.
AirAsia Group chief executive officer Tony Fernandes, who met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Transport Minister Aryadan Mohammed on Sunday at the Cochin International Airport for discussions, said: “We have to say, we had a very positive meeting with the Chief Minister who was very clear (about) what he wanted. He wants to make it much cheaper for people in Kerala to fly.”
The group was in the process of applying for AirAsia India and the discussion held on Sunday revolved around looking at a base in Kochi to enable launch of more domestic flights and eventually international flights, he told reporters as he visited the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in the city.
“So, we like what we heard, we’ll put up a proposal to the State government and let’s hope we can start,” he added.
Top government sources told The Hindu that AirAsia was asked by the State government to submit its business plans in two weeks and the government would respond to the proposals in a month’s time. The AirAsia team is also learnt to have requested tax exemption or concessions on aviation turbine fuel, which the State government has said it would consider.
AirAsia’s decision to look at Kochi as its India operations base came after Mr. Fernandes and his deputy Kamarudin Merananun visited CIAL on Sunday to inspect the facilities, which include two hangars, not fully utilised, and a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility. There is also an aviation industry training centre almost fully ready for commissioning. Besides, CIAL offered lower parking and ground charges.
Sources said the AirAsia team was impressed with the facility and the fact CIAL was classified as a private airport, which would make the decision-making process much smoother and faster.
Sources also said the government hoped to make AirAsia the State’s brand ambassador considering the success of the company, which has grown rapidly from two lakh passengers in its first year to 4.2 crore passengers in its 11th year.
AirAsia group has applied for a licence to operate in India in a joint venture with Tata Sons. Mr. Fernandes said in Chennai on Saturday that the airline was waiting for a no-objection certificate from the Union government and expected to launch its services by the end of the year.
“The AirAsia flies now from Kochi to Kuala Lumpur and we’ve been looking at Bangkok as well, the flight has been successful,” he said. It has widely been reported that AirAsia planned to launch a football club in India from the 2014-15 season and part-owns QPR in the English Premier League.
Chairman and managing director of CIAL V.J. Kurien, economic advisor to the Chief Minister Shaffi Mather and other officials were present during the discussions.