Malaysia Tycoon Fernandes' Indian Roots May Help Skirt Air Rules

Tony Fernandes

Tony Fernandes.

Photographer: Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg

Malaysian airline tycoon Tony Fernandes, chief executive of budget carrier AirAsia Bhd, said he’s applied for a version of Indian citizenship, a status that may allow him to fully own his local unit and skirt some aviation rules that restrict foreigners.

“There will be a big party when I get my approval,” he told reporters in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad on Wednesday, where he was attending an air show. “I will be the same as everyone else.”

If India grants the special citizenship to Fernandes, 51, he may be able to fend off rivals who say AirAsia is violating foreign ownership rules by fully controlling the local unit even though it’s allowed to hold only up to 49 percent. Becoming an overseas citizen of India may clear the path for the British-educated chief executive officer to acquire, in his personal capacity, 100 percent of the venture he now shares with the Tata Group and a private investor.

“This whole foreign thing is bizarre for me,” Fernandes, whose parents are from India, told reporters. “What’s important? Is it creating jobs, is it creating investments, increasing tourism?”

The Malaysia-listed carrier started its India operations in June 2014, intensifying competition in an air travel market where operators racked up $10 billion in losses in the past seven years. AirAsia (India) Pvt. is a joint venture between AirAsia, Tata Sons Ltd. and Telestra Tradeplace Pvt.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE