AirAsia, Asia’s leading budget carrier, is set to achieve 25 per cent growth in passenger traffic this year and is confident of a similar growth in 2009, its Group Chief Executive Officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said.

He said the seven-year-old airline carried 15 million passengers in 2007 and the passenger volume is expected to rise to 19 million by end of this year.

“There is no reason it will be less next year. We hope the passenger traffic can grow between four to five million in 2009,” he said after launching the “Mai Pen Rai Thailand” (No Problem) and “Same Same Thailand” campaign Tuesday aimed at restoring confidence in the country’s tourism and travel sector after the recent political crisis.

Thailand’s tourism industry was badly affected when anti-government protesters closed the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang Airports for eight days recently.

AirAsia is offering 100,000 free tickets from its hubs in Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Bangkok and Jakarta.

Present were Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand Phornsiri Manoharn and Thai AirAsia Chief Executive Officer Tassapon Bijleveld.

Fernandes said despite the anticipated economic recession next year, he was confident of good business for the airline as more travellers would be looking at short-and medium-haul travels compared to long-haul journeys which are more expensive.

“In fact, we can go more in terms of growth but it is being limited by the number of aircraft. All our 37 planes are well financed up to 2011 and we don’t hedge on oil,” he said.

Fernandes said the increase in passenger volume was based on its planes to more destinations in 2007, including the planned five routes to India from Kuala Lumpur, and three from Bangkok as well as Bangkok-Bali and Bangkok-Guangzhou which were expected to start in January.

Despite the economic gloom and political upheavals in Thailand, he was confident of overcoming the obstacles as the airline had managed to survive many hindrances like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), bird flu, tsunami and Bali bombings.

“The important thing is aggressive marketing, especially in the Asean region, which has close to 600 million population, but we need more support from the governments in the region,” he said.

Citing Thailand as an example, Fernandes said the Airport Authority of Thailand (AOT) should build a low cost carrier terminal (LCCT), similar to Malaysia and Singapore and reduce the 700 baht airport tax which was among the most expensive in the region.

He said Thailand should consider building a LCCT with the capacity of between 10 million and 15 million passengers, adding that AirAsia was willing to invest in it.

On Thai AirAsia badly affected by the airport stand-off, Fernandes said bookings increased to 80 percent in the past week and was confident the Thai subsidiary would break even next year with a full fleet of Airbus, maturity in routes and larger market share.

— BERNAMA