Tony Fernandes, Group CEO, AirAsia Group. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: AirAsia, the Malaysian low-cost carrier, is in talks with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce and Marketing (DTCM) to launch flights to the emirate as early as next year.

“We are definitely interested in Dubai,” Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia, told Gulf News in an interview on Wednesday.

Executives from the Malaysian carrier have met with DTCM officials this week including with the Director-General Hilal Al Merri, according to Fernandes, who was in Dubai on Wednesday to speak at the Africa Global Business Forum. He said he had met with officials from DTCM on the sidelines of the conference.

Fernandes said he believes AirAsia, which has built a brand around the low-cost model, could create its own niche in the Dubai market “even though Emirates is so strong.”

“Emirates serves one market. We serve a much deeper Asian market,” he said.

Unlike Emirates, which focuses on its hub model to carry traffic through Dubai across its network, Fernandes said AirAsia would attract flexible independent travellers (FIT). FIT is a common industry term to describe travellers, or a tourism market, that does not encompass a packaged tour but the holiday is still booked to a travel professional.

AirAsia has several offshoots under its umbrella including AirAsia X that operates out of a number of countries in Asia. The group’s main base is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Fernandes said he could launch a direct Kuala Lumpur-Dubai service “soon” but that its AirAsia X brand could also fly to Dubai from Bangkok in Thailand or Bali in Indonesia.

In what could be a hint that AirAsia could fly to Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central (DWC), currently the emirate’s secondary and cheaper airport, Fernandes mentioned the new airport while also saying he was “impressed” with Dubai.

The airline also recently launched AirAsia India, a joint venture that the parent company holds a 49 per cent stake in. Fernandes said that an India-Dubai service would be ideal but will be dependent on Indian regulators approving international routes. The new carrier has already faced opposition to its expansion from its Indian competitors.

Asked about a potential partnership with one of the major Gulf airlines, Fernandes said AirAsia has held talks with Emirates and Etihad Airways but that a tie-up was unlikely. “We’ve never been great partners of other airlines,” he said.