(May 13) AirAsia boss Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has apologised for buckling under intense pressure from the Najib administration by showing that he supported the Barisan Nasional (BN) government by flying the former prime minister on a plane with a BN theme.
On May 7, former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak returned to Kuala Lumpur from Kota Kinabalu on an AirAsia A330-300 jet with special livery featuring BN's election slogan “Hebatkan Negaraku” (Make my country greater) and featuring air stewardesses who wore blue uniforms.
Fernandes was slammed on social media by lots of angry netizens who criticised him for selling out.
In a video posted in his Facebook page today, Fernandes said he was under intense pressure as he had refused to sack his chairperson of AirAsia X Bhd Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz who had criticised the BN government very strongly and he also declined to cancel the cheap and extra flights offered during the election period.
"So, foolishly, I thought by doing the video, which I felt was fairly neutral and factual and the plane from Kota Kinabalu would appease the government and protect the jobs of our Allstars and more importantly, the very essence of allowing more than 80 million people to fly every year with low fares," Fernandes said in his video.
"And under the intense pressure, I buckled. It wasn’t right, I will forever regret it. But it was a decision made at the spur of the moment to protect that baby that has given so much to Malaysia and will continue to give so much to Malaysia.
"I apologise once again for the pain and the hurt I caused. My views, as I said earlier are very much the same as all of your views. I look forward to a fantastic new Malaysia. A Malaysia that gives everyone a chance."
The following is the full text of his video:
“I’m not someone who runs away from difficult situations. From times that we need to stand up and be counted. Today is one of them. I’m sorry for what has gone on.
"I buckled at the crucial moment in our history. And I think it’s right for me to try to explain what happened over the last few weeks.
My views are actually the same as your views. As you can see from my many speeches, from my Instagram, and my Twitter. I believe so much in this new Malaysia.
A Malaysia that will be just and fair. A Malaysia that has really reflected everything that we built at Airasia. Meritocracy. A business that has allowed people to dream at all times.
I have been under pressure many, many times before. But I have withstood it. People have seen it in the newspapers when I fought regulators and government authorities always in the name of getting more people to fly.
It was hard, I never really buckled. So people are asking me why did I really buckle at this crucial time, a crucial time in our history.
There are no real excuses but I will tell you how I felt, leading up to those decisions.
Airasia is in a very regulated industry. An industry where almost everything requires the approval of the government. From flights, to airport taxes to routes. And so, it is never very easy running an airline and one must always support the government of the day.
When Rafidah Aziz started getting involved in the Pakatan Harapan campaign through her social media and eventually ceramah, I was asked to remove her as chairperson of AirAsia X. I refused to do so, because I thought it was not the right thing to do. And I came under intense pressure day by day as Rafidah got more and more involved in the campaign.
As Rafidah's impact and popularity grew, the pressure grew exponentially. It was getting harder and harder to resist the pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office. I stood firm, I never ever mentioned to Rafidah to step down from the board of AirAsia X. Because it just wasn’t the right thing to do.
The second point that led to this grave error of judgement was when the rakyat came to us asking for more flights at a low fare. I decided that was the right thing to do. I knew it wouldn’t be popular with the government. But I felt as an airline, we have to serve the people and at this time, people really wanted to go back.
In previous elections, AirAsia was not as large an airline, we couldn’t make a difference. So we put on 120 extra flights which would have carried 26,000 people on top of our normal flights.
On top of that, we reduced the ticket prices, to make it affordable. RM99 for flights in Peninsular Malaysia and RM129 for flights across the sea, to East Malaysia.
The rakyat was overjoyed and that unfortunately put me under more pressure when it was realised by the government that we were ferrying more voters home.
Within 24 hours, we were summoned by the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) and told to cancel all those flights. That put us again on tremendous pressure. We had both Rafidah where we didn’t buckle and we have put in these extra flights to carry the rakyat home, at low fares.
So, foolishly, I thought by doing the video, which I felt was fairly neutral and factual and the plane from Kota Kinabalu would appease the government and protect the jobs of our Allstars and more importantly, the very essence of allowing more than 80 million people to fly every year with low fares.
This is my baby that we built. And it is not a baby driven by profits, not driven by my pocket as what many people have said in their Instagram posts. It’s a baby that I’m very proud of, that I have made many dreams come true. People who never thought they could fly, people who could never return to vote and go back to work in a midweek.
People who started with us carrying bags and are now pilots or despatch boys who are now pilots. Women who never believed they could fly. So that’s a very passionate baby of mine.
And under the intense pressure, I buckled. It wasn’t right, I will forever regret it. But it was a decision made at the spur of the moment to protect that baby that has given so much to Malaysia and will continue to give so much to Malaysia.
I apologise once again for the pain and the hurt I caused. My views, as I said earlier are very much the same as all of your views. I look forward to a fantastic new Malaysia. A Malaysia that gives everyone a chance.
And I will do my level best and put 150% in to make up for this error of judgement and to make sure AirAsia continues to allow dreams to come true. And to allow us to reach the true potential of what every Malaysian wants to be. We will do our best to play that small little part.
I thank you for listening. I thank you for supporting me all these years. AirAsia is not a manifestation of Tony Fernandes. Airasia is the product of the people. It is due to all of you, that we created this brand that is globally well known. It is a Malaysian brand supported by Malaysians. And we will continue to do our best to fly the flag high.
It is still the happiest moment of my life that we have a new Malaysia which will give everyone an amazing chance to reach the skies. Just like I have many of our Allstars a chance to dream and live their dreams to the fullest.
Thanks for listening, and see you soon."