All this has helped AirAsia become one of the world's lowest-cost carriers, according to ABN Amro. Its cost per seat-mile is 3 cents, about half what it costs U.S. airline Southwest. Its average ticket price is $37. Its net profit could triple to $100 million on sales of $340 million for the fiscal year ending in June, according to Merrill Lynch
Now Fernandes plans to fund a grander ambition to make other services affordable. He is rolling out three budget businesses, to be owned and operated separately from AirAsia: hotel chain Tune Hotels, financial products Tune Money and a long-haul, low-cost version of AirAsia. "Everyone in Asia is chasing the top end. We are doing the opposite," says Fernandes. "We revolutionized air travel in Asia. Now we plan to revolutionize the hotel and financial service industries for the masses. I'm a 'proletariat capitalist.'"
Born in Malaysia, Fernandes spent most of his childhood in the U.K., where he lived near an airport. After graduating from the London School of Economics he worked for two years as an accountant for Richard Branson's Virgin Records, and it's pretty obvious where he gets some of his ideas. Even AirAsia's colors are the same as Virgin's red and white, though Fernandes doesn't like the comparison. "Branson will start a business, put managers in to run it and go start another one," he says, "I like building and running businesses. But we both like to have fun."