US$1bil loan offer for AirAsia's digital assets

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes speaks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 8, 2020. - Reuters

PETALING JAYA: An American lender is willing to loan AirAsia Bhd US$1bil for its digital assets it has accumulated from its business over the years.

AirAsia Group Bhd CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes did not reveal the name of the potential US lender but spoke on how its data-driven new “super app” would become an equal contributor to group profit with its airline business in five years.

“The airline has created this amazing business, ” he said, adding that post-Covid, the app has seen 50 million unique visitors every month.

“We didn’t rush into the digital age as we started this journey two years before the Covid-19 outbreak, ” he told the media.

The contribution forecast is based on AirAsia flying 300 aircraft in five years.

He said there was a cash-raising potential to be done at the and airline levels.

“The first lot of financing will be announced by the end of this month, ” he said.

Fernandes said that all pillars of the app have already broken even except the fintech segment of the digital business because of the interchange fees it has to pay credit card companies. However, it has secured a money lending licence from the Housing and Local Government Ministry to add another element towards the app’s fintech business.

In a statement yesterday, AirAsia said its Asean super app provides over 15 types of products and services under three main pillars, which are travel, e-commerce and fintech.

Fernandes believes the app can be a competitor to some of the established apps in Asean like Grab and Gojek and will provide competition in a fierce segment like food delivery.

In the lucrative food delivery business, restaurants would not have to pay a commission to like they do for other food delivery apps, but pay instead to the food deliverer, which translates to a commission rate of between 3% and 9% per delivery.

“Now, everyone can travel, experience, shop, eat, enjoy rewards and more with the new super app. From travel needs to everyday lifestyle essentials, there is something for everyone, ” said CEO Karen Chan.

Fernandes said AirAsia would not be taking delivery of new planes as there are a lot of excess aircraft within the industry.

“No one is going to fly the same size of fleets they did pre-Covid-19 for a couple of years, I imagine.

“My guess is that we would be able to fly 180 planes by end-2021 for the entire group.

“It depends on when the borders re-open for all our markets, ” he said. AirAsia has 245 planes currently.

In fact, Fernandes said the airline would be returning 22 planes this year to its lessors.

“I don’t see us getting to a position where we want to buy planes for a number of years.

“Even when you want to buy planes, there will be cheaper second hand planes out there, ” he said.

As for travel, Fernandes said leisure travel would likely bounce back ahead of business travel.

“Leisure, budget, short-haul business travel will bounce back to pre-Covid-19 level and we are already seeing it.

“In Thailand, we are 95% of capacity of pre-Covid-19. In fact, by Q4 we will be 10% ahead of where we were.

“When the borders re-open, (the business) will bounce back really fast, ” he said.

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