AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes says he has applied for special Indian citizenship

Malaysian airline tycoon Tony Fernandes says has applied for a special form of Indian citizenship that would allow him to evade aviation rules restricting foreign ownership in India.

By becoming an "Overseas Citizen of India" (OCI), the AirAsia chief executive may be able to wholly acquire and fully control the airline's Indian subsidiary, Bloomberg reported.

AirAsia India is a three-way joint venture between AirAsia, the Tata Group and a private investor, with the Malaysian group currently owning a 49 per cent stake.

Indian aviation rules that foreigners or foreign companies can only have up to a 49 per cent stake in local airlines, prompting a number of domestic Indian carriers to raise concerns that AirAsia India is foreign-controlled.

Mr Fernandes, whose parents are from India, told reporters in Hyderabad that he had submitted his application last week.

AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes named Time magazine's Most Influential

  • Time magazine has named low-cost carrier AirAsia's boss Tony Fernandes as one of this year's 100 most influential people in the world.
  • The 50-year-old Malaysian turned around the ailing airline company in 2001 by purchasing it from its Malaysian owner for a token one ringgit (S$0.36), along with over US$11 million in debt.
  • Tony Fernandes (centre), AirAsia’s group chief executive, flanked by Sim S. Lim (with grey tie), DBS’ Singapore country head and Tan Tong Hai, StarHub CEO, at the launch of the new loyalty programme in which AirAsia partners DBS Bank and StarHub for customers to chalk up miles more easily to redeem free flights on Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia.
  • Following years of expansion and franchising, the airline is rationalising its fleet through aircraft sales after a slowdown in Indonesia and delays in its entry into India.
  • Tony Fernandes, chief executive officer of AirAsia Bhd., left, and Billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and chief executive officer of Rakuten Inc., shake hands during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
  • Tony Fernandes meets Indonesia president Jokowi at Surabaya's airport before meeting grieving families of the AirAsia crash.
  • QPR Chairman Tony Fernandes (L) and QPR Director of Football Les Ferdinand in the stands.
  • Almost a semi-cult figure in his home country, the flamboyant and fiesty Fernandes is known for his colourful personality. His keen interest in sports has raised his profile in the media.
  • In 2013, he even became the "Donald Trump" of reality TV series The Apprentice Asia, which is based on the American original. The show pits contestants against one another in a bid to work with Fernandes, who also hosted the show.
  • Richard Branson honoured a losing bet by serving as a stewardess with Fernandes over whose Formula One racing team would finish ahead of each other at the Abu Dhabi race during their debut 2010 season.
  • AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes, left, and Zest Airways Inc. President and CEO Alfredo Yao exchange caps after the Signing of Agreement at the financial district of Makati, south of Manila, Philippines on Monday, March 11, 2013.
  • Fernandes completed his takeover of English Premier League club Queens Park Rangers on Thursday after buying out Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and former Renault F1 team principal Flavio Briatore.
  • Queens Park Rangers' English midfielder Joey Barton carries QPR owner Tony Fernandes on his shoulders after winning the English Championship Play Off final football match against Derby County at Wembley
  • Tony Fernandes (5th L), founder of long-haul carrier AirAsia X, and Chief Executive Officer Azran Osman-Rani (5th R), hold a newly launched AirAsia X Prospectus as they pose with AirAsia X flight attendants during its launch ceremony in Kuala Lumpur June 10, 2013.
  • (L to R) Air Asia CEO Lotus team Principle and Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, Italian Formula One driver Jarno Trulli, Malaysian Formula One driver Fairuz Fauzy, and Finnish Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen pose for the media as they unveil the new Lotus F1 car at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London on February 12, 2010.

Mr Fernandes' announcement comes days after news emerged that as many as 54,000 Malaysians have renounced their citizenship since 2010.

But according to the Indian publication The Economic Times, the Overseas Citizen of India status, which is open to people who have Indian origin roots, does not amount to dual nationality or dual citizenship.

Mr Fernandes is credited with turning around AirAsia, which was heavily in debt when he bought it for RM1 (S$0.34) in 2001.

Today, it has more than 200 planes operated by eight carriers in five countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India, The Straits Times reported recently.

Mr Fernandes also founded a Formula One team and is majority owner of English football club Queens Park Rangers.

With a net worth of US$230 million (S$312 million), he was ranked 45 in Forbes' list of the 50 richest Malaysians in 2016. In 2015, he was also included in Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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