The last few years have been turbulent for commercial aviation, to say the least. Along with the industry-wide upheaval sparked by the pandemic, low-cost carrier AirAsia also had to deal with corruption allegations alongside major aircraft manufacturer Airbus. One man, Tony Fernandes, has been at the center of AirAsia’s recovery and controversy.
In the early 2000s, Fernandes transformed AirAsia into Southeast Asia’s regional power in low-cost commercial air travel. However, in the automotive world, he is likely best known for his tenure as a Formula 1 team owner. Tony Fernandes is now stepping down from his role as CEO of AirAsia X, the carrier’s long-haul sister airline.
AirAsia X announced the departure of Tony Fernandes in a brief press release on its investor relations website. Fernandes took the position in July with a stated goal of preparing the carrier for its next stage of growth. He will remain in his position as CEO of Capital A Berhad, AirAsia’s overarching corporate group. In recent years, AsiaAir has diversified into hotel booking, ride-hailing and food delivery.
On his stepping down, Tony Fernandes said:
“I went in with a clear mandate to restart AirAsia X and bring it back to life from hibernation. I am happy that this has been accomplished with a very edifying plan for 20 aircraft for the AAX Group— 13 aircraft for AAX and seven for Thai AAX. After the excellent job led by Lim Kian Onn on the restructuring, my job was to bring the airline back to profitability and growth. We have improved the cost structure, and created the cargo business, which has contributed about 20% to the airline’s revenue during the pandemic and will continue to play a vital role in the recovery of AAX.”
In early 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as regulators in Britain and France, accused Airbus of bribing AirAsia executives into ordering 180 aircraft from the European manufacturer. Allegedly, the bribes were facilitated and laundered by Airbus sponsoring the Tony Fernandes-owned Caterham F1 team. Officials believed that AirAsia executives, including Tony Fernandes, pocketed funds meant for the racing team. Across five seasons, Caterham F1 Team failed to score a single point despite between reasonably well-funded on paper.
Though, the corruption case never went to trial. Airbus settled out of court and agreed to a $4 billion fine. AirAsia has categorically denied the bribery allegations. Tony Fernandes temporarily stepped down as AirAsia CEO during the scandal and returned after being cleared of wrongdoing.