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‘With the rise of income and the rise of middle class, people are traveling more’

An animated interview with Morshedul Alam Chaklader, CEO of AirAsia

Morshedul Alam/Photo: Arif Mahmud

Morshedul Alam Chaklader is a many of many calibers. Along with helming a top position in the corporate world, he is honing his entrepreneurship role by venturing into different businesses.

He is currently playing the role of CEO of AirAsia in Bangladesh. Fintech team recently visited his office. Over a cup of coffee Chaklader shared tidbits of his life and works.

Please tell us how you started your career?

I am involved with business for the past 12 years. After completing graduation, I entered the capital market with a modest investment. I bought some shares and my hunch and speculation about those shares were proven to be right, hence I was able to make some quick cashes by those. I then invested the money in electronics business. I started importing goods like freeze, AC and others. The market of LED TV was booming then and I also started importing those. Over time, my business took a good shape and I started reaping sizable profits from that. I then sliced some funding from the electronics business and invested that in pharmaceutical business.

My pharmaceutical company was based in Chattagram and it was named as Orbit Pharma. The problem was as I was based in Dhaka, I couldn’t concentrate on running my business in Chattagram. I was also bleeding money, hence at one point I sold out my pharmaceutical company.

After that I invested in inland container depot (ICD). That investment was proven to be wise as there is no dearth of import-export at any given time. Along with my ICD business, I also got interested to invest in telecom sector. The government was giving International Gateway (IGW) license at that time. With some of my friends https://www.paperwritings.com/ as partners, I obtained an IGW license and ventured into the business of IGW, from there I also got involved in food and beverage industry as well.

While working on those various areas of entrepreneurship, I got an offer to enter into the aviation sector. I was told that Malaysia based AirAsia was expanding their flight operation in Bangladesh and I had an opportunity there. I grabbed that opportunity and joined Air Asia.

You got involved with diversified sectors as entrepreneurs. What was your learning from those?  

My learning is that you can engage in different sectors at a time if you are sincere about each and have patience to see the real growth. You have to allocate your time wisely and give equal importance to each sector if you want to get succeed. Having said so, I need to utter a word of caution that multitasking is not an easy thing. You have to be a problem solver and agile thinker.

In Bangladesh, some of the world renowned airlines had started their operations but after few years, they closed down. Why did that happen?

Every business has its own set of problems. Suppose if you have a bank liability and don’t pay in due time, then your business will crumbling with debt and after a certain period it will eventually tank. Efficient management is very important for any business. As I mentioned it earlier, that I couldn’t run my pharmaceuticals business properly and was forced to sell it. I learned a lot of things from that seemingly failed venture.

The rule of thumbs of aviation business is no different. You have to have patience, along with efficient management and maintenance. While some airlines, I am not naming one, started their businesses here, they can’t draw in the customers with their offerings because of their lack of vision and lack of operational efficiency. In our case of AirAsia, we can say that we always try to provide top quality service to our customers. Most of our aircrafts are new and fuel-efficient. We run a fleet comprised of Airbus A330, A320, A320 Neo.

One important factor is the investment capacity of the airlines. When AirAsia makes an order, to say, Airbus, It orders 150 aircrafts. Many of the local airlines in Bangladesh don’t have that investment capacity. Aviation sector is a billion dollar business and you need to have a strong financial backbone to be a player in the sector.

What challenges do you face while running AirAsia?

First, let me tell you that AirAsia is a budget airline. But despite being a budget airline, it provides food and 20 kilo baggage facilities. Even after providing such facility, there is no dearth of complaints made by the customers. So I have to say that the challenges in the aviation sector are multifarious. Suppose many customers complain that we don’t have in-flight entertainment system in our aircrafts. This is not true. We provide wi-fi facilities with which one can download any content for entertainment on board. So even though we don’t have screens in our aircrafts, we have the scope of providing entertainment to the people.

What type of support do you want from the government in Bangladesh? What is your future plan?

The airlines operators in Bangladesh are getting a lot of support from the government. The government has taken a plan to expand the airport and build the third terminal in Hazrat Shahjala International Airport. This will boost the aviation sector in Bangladesh in a big way. I believe in the next few years, we will see some rapid expansion of the sector as Bangladesh is located in an attractive geographical location and with the expansion of Dhaka airport, lots of other airlines will be interested to come here.

Besides, lots of people are now getting interested to travel in different destinations from Bangladesh. Just imagine, few years ago, people wouldn’t think of traveling to destinations like Maldives, Egypt or Seychelles. But now with the rise of income and the rise of middle class, people are traveling more. They also have the intention to travel more. This gives us, the airlines operators an immense opportunity to expand our business.

Tour groups are making attractive packages which are helping the interested persons to plan travel according to their budget. For example AirAsia has a package including airfare, two nights three days accommodation at a three-star hotel including breakfast, pick-up and drop service, which costs only Tk 28,500 per person.

We are planning for Honeymoon packages to Mauritius which will also be very attractive and economical. We now operate a daily flight from Dhaka to Kualalampur. We want to expand that and want to operate two flights a day from Dhaka. Keeping Kuala Lumpur as our hub, we fly-through to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast, Brunei, Mauritius, China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Philippine, Indonesia and many more destinations.

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