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March 29, 2017

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AirAsia boss castigates rival, Malaysian regulators

KUALA LUMPUR--Flamboyant AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes savaged state-backed flag carrier Malaysian Airlines and the nation's aviation authorities on Wednesday, accusing them of mismanagement that was harming the traveling public.

The budget airline mogul posted the comments on his Twitter feed a day after fierce rival Malaysia Airlines (MAS) announced it had lost a whopping 1.17 billion ringgit (US$355 million) in 2013.

"AirAsia Allstars, take a bow. Malaysia Airlines lost over a billion," Fernandes tweeted.

"So much money wasted. If people were more efficient Malaysians would spend less on travel."

Fernandes bought ailing AirAsia in 2001, quickly turning it around with his no-frills, low-fare formula.

AirAsia has put severe pressure on inefficient MAS, which analysts say is hampered by poor management, bloated and demanding unions and government interference.

On Tuesday MAS also reported its fourth straight quarterly loss and warned of a "challenging" year ahead.

The airline has bled money in recent years and announced a series of turnaround plans, but the poor earnings have continued.

"I wonder if it's fair that Malaysia Airlines can lose so much money and protect its market share. Can only do that with taxpayers money," Fernandes tweeted.

The outspoken Fernandes also took aim at Malaysian regulators, implying they were seeking to hinder MAS's competition.

"Imagine how many jobs AirAsia could have created if (there was) effective regulation. We have done amazing. Unbelievable. Despite all the roadblocks," he said.

The two airlines briefly buried the hatchet in 2011, when Fernandes agreed to a strategic tie-up aimed at helping to revive struggling MAS.

But the deal was called off just months later, with Fernandes faulting "massive" MAS union resistance to reform and hinting at deep problems in the rival airline.

AirAsia is currently at odds with government-controlled airport operator Malaysian Airport Holdings Berhad over a two-year delay and cost overruns in the construction of a new budget terminal outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.

AirAsia is set to be the main presence at the facility. Its current opening date is May 2 but recent media reports have suggested it may yet be pushed back again.

Fernandes said MAHB "spends double what it could."

AirAsia, which has some of the lowest unit costs in the world, has raked in business awards and accolades over the years, while expanding aggressively.

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