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Can flamboyant entrepreneur weather crisis?

DETERMINED: AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes speaks during a news conference in Tokyo in July. He took over then-failing AirAsia in 2001 and turned it into one of Asia's fastest growing airlines.

Malaysian mogul Tony Fernandes, who transformed a floundering carrier into Asia's biggest budget airline, faces his first major crisis after an AirAsia plane went missing yesterday with 162 people on board.

AirAsia is credited with starting a revolution in the skies of Southeast Asia and has seen spectacular growth under Mr Fernandes' low-cost, low-overheads model despite intense competition, reported AFP.

The former record industry executive who acquired the then-failing airline in 2001 has become one of Asia's most visible entrepreneurs and has carved out an image that has seen him compared often to colourful Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson.

Mr Fernandes maintained an image of calm yesterday even as his company plunged into its first major crisis after an AirAsia passenger jet went missing in bad weather en route from Indonesia to Singapore.

"Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. We must stay strong," he tweeted as he left for Surabaya, where most of the passengers are from.

"My only thought (sic) are with the passengers and my crew."

Mr Fernandes is ranked 28th on the Forbes list of Malaysia's richest, with an estimated net worth of US$650 million (S$860 million).

DEFYING NAYSAYERS

The tycoon, a flamboyant spirit in Asia's staid business world who favours blue jeans and caps over power suits, has made a habit of defying naysayers.

He took over loss-making AirAsia shortly after the September 11 attacks in the United States sent the global aviation industry into a tailspin.

At the time, he was given little chance of succeeding.

He bought the airline, its two aircraft, and 40 million ringgit (S$15 million) in debt for the token sum of one ringgit, mortgaging his house to pour money into the carrier.

But with his motto "Now everyone can fly", he turned it into a growing force in the industry, with profits mounting and its route system expanding worldwide.

In 2011, Mr Fernandes struck a deal with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone for a majority stake in Premiership football team Queens Park Rangers.

Endau Analytics aviation analyst Shukor Yusof said his entrepreneurial spirit would survive yesterday's apparent tragedy.

"This incident will not dampen Fernandes' business spirit. This is such an unfortunate incident. AirAsia remains a strong budget carrier. I think the people will rally behind AirAsia," he said.

I also pray to God Almighty, begging for the safety of the passengers on the plane. I urge all Indonesians to pray so that the 155 passengers and seven crew on board AirAsia survive unhurt.

- Indonesian president Joko Widodo in a Facebook post yesterday.

Tags: air asia and qz5801

3rd aviation tragedy in a year?

REMEMBERING: Well-wishers signing messages of hope for the families of those on board missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 at the KL International Airport.
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KEEPING WATCH: An official from Indonesia's national search and rescue agency in Medan, North Sumatra, at work.
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Timeline of flight QZ8501

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Air Asia QZ8501: Sorrow in Surabaya, grim in Changi

TEARS: Distraught next-of-kin gather at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya.
"We have to stay positive and hope that they (loved ones) could be found soon." - Indonesian Louise Sidharta (above), whose fiance, Mr Alain Oktavianus Siauw, was on board Flight QZ8501 with his mother and three brothers.
TEARS: An Indonesian woman at Changi Airport who had four relatives on the flight.
STRESSFUL WAIT: The flight information board at Changi Airport directing relatives of passengers on Flight QZ8501 to proceed to the information counter.

A two-year-old Singapore girl is among the 162 passengers and crew missing after AirAsia flight QZ8501 lost contact en route from Surabaya to Singapore yesterday.

The little girl was on board the aircraft with her British father on the early morning flight.

Waiting anxiously for her at the arrival hall in Changi Airport Terminal 1 were the girl's mother and grandparents.

Flight QZ8501 was supposed to land in Singapore at 8.30am yesterday but never arrived.

The flight, with 16 children and one infant on board, lost contact with air traffic control at 7.17am Singapore time, while still in Indonesian air space.

Of the passengers, 149 are Indonesian, three are from South Korea and one each from Malaysia, Singapore and the UK.

Six of the crew are Indonesians while one, from France, is the co-pilot.

By 9.30am, about a dozen family members, who had been waiting at the Terminal 1 arrival hall for QZ8501, were taken to a relatives' holding area in Terminal 2.

As of yesterday evening, 47 relatives and friends of 57 passengers on board the missing plane had registered at the holding area, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) said.

Among them were the girl's mother and grandparents.

Read the full report in our print edition on Dec 29. 

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