AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes yesterday paid glowing tribute to the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Razak. (Pix by AHMAD IRHAM MOHD NOOR)

PUTRAJAYA: AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes yesterday paid glowing tribute to the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

He said the skillful stewardship of the Prime Minister had led to a booming economy and created job opportunities for all Malaysians.

Speaking at the official launch of RedQ, the airlines’ headquarters here, Fernandes said AirAsia was a big believer of his policies and credited Najib personally for helping make the airline a world leader in the aviation sector.

Lacing his speech with humour which had the VIPs and guests in stitches, Fernandes started by stating that he was honoured that a prime minister had “come to our home for the first time in 16 years.”

“Sir, RedQ is our theatre of dreams, similar to the home ground of your favourite team, Manchester United.

“Thanks to all your policies, which we are a firm supporter of, today I can present to you the people that erected this theatre, the place where AirAsia calls home,” he said.

Fernandes said AirAsia had come a long way since the airline started with two planes 16-years ago.

“How have we done it? Great staff, great low-cost model but, most importantly, great government, great policies and a great leader who puts the people first,” he said.

Fernandes noted that, just like Najib, AirAsia also strongly believed in empowering women.

He said AirAsia was the first airline in Malaysia to have female pilots, and now they made up 5.5 per cent of all its pilots - a higher ratio than in the United States.

“We have many capable women in top roles in the company, such as Aireen Omar, our Deputy Group CEO (Digital, Transformation and Corporate Services), our Group CFO Pattra, Siegtraund Teh, our Group Chief Commercial Officer, as well as Neelofa, the latest addition to our Board of Directors,” he said.

Fernandes said the prime minister’s policy of bringing Malaysians back to grow the talent base in Malaysia was something that AirAsia was also enamoured with.

“Our biggest drive in 2018 is talent acquisition and talent development.

“To that end, we have brought back Varun Bhatia from Kraft to drive this recruitment. I’m happy to report that we have brought talent back from the top universities in the UK and US to enable transformation of AirAsia into a digital powerhouse,” he said, adding that AirAsia had also recruited top international talent as they saw Malaysia as a country with good growth prospects.

He said for the first time in aviation history, AirAsia had been recruiting in the Middle East.

“For years and years, the Middle East took our talent and now I can report back that, with competitive wages and a high standard of living, we are bringing Malaysians home and international talent to Malaysia.

“We fully endorse your vision of Talent Corp and driving wages higher so we can attract the best talent to Malaysia,” he said.

Fernandes said all this had been part of Malaysia’s success story under Najib’s leadership.

“We had GDP growth of 5.9 per cent, low unemployment at 3.3 per cent, 2.26 million jobs created since 2009, and one million of those were high-income jobs.

“That’s the kind of Malaysia we want to see. A high income, high skills Malaysia blazing the trail for Asean and beyond in the 21st century, and aspiring to be a top 20 nation by 2050 in line with Transformasi Nasional 50 (TN50),” he said.

Fernandes said there was no reason Malaysia did not achieve the dream as after all, “we have the ambition, we have the talent and we have the right leadership to steer the country and the economy.

“We’re now seeing the ringgit at 3.91 to the dollar and we’re loving it,” he said, pointing out that AirAsia had just yesterday morning sold its leasing company for US$1.18 billion, and that money coming home from the sale would boost the ringgit further to better reflect the true strength and resilience of the Malaysian economy.

Fernandes also shared how the prime minister had gone the extra mile for the airline and AirAsia would not be where it was today if not for Najib’s wisdom and vision.

He said the company hoped Najib would continue to shape an ideal cost environment for low-cost airlines like AirAsia not just to grow but thrive for the benefit of the nation.