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1 January 2015
AIRASIA QZ8501 PLANE CRASH - AirAsia Chief Tony Fernandes Takes Lead on Crash Response
AirAsia Chief Tony Fernandes Takes Lead on Crash Response
Carrier to Make Good on Commitments to Families of Those on Flight 8501, CEO Says
JAKE MAXWELL WATTS,
ANITA RACHMAN and
Updated Dec. 31, 2014 5:22 a.m. ET
SURABAYA, Indonesia—For years, AirAsia traded on its reputation as a fun airline, the carrier that anyone could fly.
Founder and Chief Executive Tony Fernandes sometimes worked flights himself, offering drinks and snacks to passengers. The carrier sponsored sports teams such as English soccer club Queens Park Rangers and an NFL team, the Oakland Raiders.
But for the past three days, Mr. Fernandes has shown a weightier side to his character as the search for the airline’s missing Flight 8501 continued. He has personally briefed families of passengers and crew on the Airbus 320, which disappeared Sunday morning en route to Singapore. He took toTwitter to brief the media and the airline’s large, multinational customer base.
When confirmation came from Indonesian authorities Tuesday that the plane had crashed, Mr. Fernandes’s message was clear: He isn’t going anywhere, and the carrier will make good on all its commitments to its passengers’ relatives, including compensation payments.
AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes attends a press conference on search efforts for missing AirAsia Flight 8501. GETTY IMAGES
“We are prepared, and we will not be running away from any of our obligations,” a grim-faced Mr. Fernandes told reporters after meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and the waiting families at the airport in Surabaya.
Mr. Fernandes, a 50-year-old former music-industry executive from Malaysia, has taken plaudits from crisis-management experts for the way he has gotten out in front of the story.
His approach has been compared favorably with that of Malaysia Airlines in the immediate aftermath of the loss of Flight 370 in March. Airline executives and Malaysian government officials were criticized by some family members and even foreign governments for their sometimes conflicting statements.
Mr. Fernandes, in contrast, has been clear and direct. His tweets, often promising information updates at set times, have been one of the leading sources of information on the progress of the investigation into what happened to Flight 8501.
They also reflect some of the resolve he has shown in negotiating lower landing fees in various countries.
Mr. Fernandes’s budget airline model has mushroomed across much of Asia since he relaunched its moribund predecessor in 2001. AirAsia now operates subsidiaries in India, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. In 2015, Mr. Fernandes aims to start a fresh venture in Japan.
“He is a master communicator,” said Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst at Malaysia-based Endau Analytics who has followed AirAsia for years.
There appeared to be more than rhetoric behind Mr. Fernandes’s words.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Fernandes said the company wouldn’t “hide behind any convention,” a possible reference to the Montreal Convention, a pact that guarantees a minimum level of compensation to the families of air-crash victim but which hasn’t been signed by Indonesia.
This pact provides for total liability of around $170,000 per passenger and also covers advance payments for accommodation and transport costs for families of victims. Carriers based in countries that have signed the 2003 treaty are liable for these compensation payments.
Indonesia, however, observes an older aviation agreement that has a lower liability limit per victim of around $8,300 and doesn’t require advance payments to passengers’ families. Because Flight 8501 was flown by AirAsia’s Indonesian affiliate, the carrier could technically have claimed it was covered by the older treaty.
Mr. Fernandes said AirAsia would move ahead with providing financial assistance straight away. “I am the leader of this company; I take responsibility,” he said. “The passengers were on my aircraft, and I have to take responsibility for that.”