All set to take off

All set to take off

Just a few months away from commencing operations in India, Mittu Chandilya, CEO of AirAsia India, shares with us the low-cost airline’s plan for the Indian market.

“To understand AirAsia as a brand, you have to understand where we come from,” says Mittu Chandilya, CEO, AirAsia India. Tony Fernandes introduced AirAsia, the first low-cost Southeast Asian airline, to the Malaysians, in the year 2001. The airline, which carried the dream of making flying possible for everyone, commenced operations with just two aircrafts (Fernandes actually bought over a struggling government-owned airline which he turned around). After stabilising the Malaysian operations, the company setup its base in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan. “We now hope to commence operations in India by the end of this year,” adds Chandilya. He describes the growth of AirAsia as a fairy tale story. “Tony did not know much about airlines. There was no definition of how an airline business must run, everyone did things hands-on and that’s been an integral part of who we are,” says Chandilya.

AirAsia is driven by a simple philosophy – to be a people’s airline.  The number one element in the company’s brand is its people. Be it a pilot or a person carrying your bags when you check in, everyone is treated equally in the organisation. Teamwork plays a very important role as well.  “We have no hierarchy. My office is a cubicle. It is an open culture and anyone can approach anyone,” says Chandilya.

Flying well-above 

Over the last 12 years, the parent airline has expanded rapidly and flies to destinations where most airlines don’t go. With a route network that connects over 20 countries, AirAsia continues to pave the way for low-cost aviation through innovative solutions, efficient processes and a passionate approach to business. In fact, AirAsia was named the world’s best low-cost airline for five consecutive years, in the annual World Airline Survey by Skytrax World Alliance, a U.K.-based consultancy. It has also been ranked among the top five most recognised and admired airlines in the Asia Pacific Top 1000 Brands 2008.

What started as a two aircraft story has now grown into a 150-fleet airline. “We have ordered 350 more aircrafts and hopefully several of them will be coming to India over time,” says Chandilya. The airline flew about 44 million people last year. “That’s a phenomenal number of passengers and it gives your brand a lot of exposure,” he adds. It gave AirAsia an opportunity to do many creative things. “For example, we could sell retail on board. To give you a captive audience of 44 million people is a very rare thing. It’s high exposure that any product can get,” he says.


“ It is a combination of different things and importantly, a willingness on our part to take a lower margin.”


Efficiency at its core 

As for AirAsia’s India strategy, the focus will be on flying new aircrafts, giving good seats, and delivering good service and hospitality.  “I don’t think India has ever seen a true low-cost airline. For me, a low-cost airline has to be able to give the same service as any other airline, but, at a competitive fare,” states Chandilya.

From a brand positioning perspective, the brand’s core positioning will be on its low fares. Chandilya’s goal, operationally, is to make sure that the Indian passenger can have these low fares on a consistent basis. The low-cost world involves a lot of discipline and cost controlling measures. Chandilya explains, “It is a combination of different things and importantly, a willingness on our part to take a lower margin.” He elaborates by saying it is important for any company to know what it certainly won’t do. For instance, entertainment systems on board are a no-no for AirAsia as it leads to increased costs.

The biggest advantage that AirAsia India probably has is the backing of its global operations and the know-how from operating low cost airlines in several countries. Its global operations give it the ability to negotiate better rates with select suppliers and aircraft manufactures. Over the years, it has gathered deep analytical insights, from selling low-price tickets in several countries, including Malaysia, which it’ll use to formulate its India strategies. It could potentially sell tickets directly to its customers, thus eliminating online and offline travel agents.

The company’s young CEO has a serious task ahead of him. He knows he is going after a virgin territory and understands why a lower fare is critical. He does not intend to compromise on quality but aims to offer the best experience.  AirAsia India is waiting with bated breath for you to take off.


Organisation: AirAsia India 

CEO: Mittu Chandilya 

Tony Fernandes introduced the first low-cost airline, AirAsia, a South East Asian carrier, to the Malaysians in the year 2001. The airline commenced operations with just two aircrafts with an aim of making flying possible for everyone. After stabilising the Malaysian operations, the company started operating in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan. It now aims to commence operations in India by the end of this year. The airlines’ India marketing strategy is all about low fares. It aims to offer seats at zero fares and free seats, to give it the early push.