India offers most potential for AirAsia: CEO

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AirAsia's chief executive has highlighted India as the largest potential growth market outside of Southeast Asia.

This is the clearest signal yet that the airline is looking at the market very closely, with some sources saying that it could form a joint venture in the country.

The news comes as the carrier completed a strategic review, which chief executive Tony Fernandes says, will guide its development over the next five years.

"In terms of non-Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, India is an exciting market and I have been overwhelmed with the developments of the country recently in terms of promoting air travel," he says.

"We will continue to explore opportunities there, but I believe this market offers the most growth potential in terms of travel."

Fernandes had previously said that AirAsia is planning to launch only one more joint venture carrier outside of Southeast Asia, and has ruled out Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam as possible bases.

AirAsia expressed its interest in the Indian market last year after India's government announced changes to foreign direct investment regulations, allowing foreign airlines to take up to a 49% stake in domestic carriers.

The airline has since denied that it is planning to take a stake in Spicejet. It has also been linked to plans by Indian airline veteran GR Gopinath to start a new budget carrier, which could be announced soon.

Fernandes adds that Malaysia AirAsia is now a "cash machine", and so, the company is turning its attention to focus on growing Thai AirAsia and Indonesia AirAsia into stronger entities "generating similar profits to Malaysia in the future."

Thai AirAsia had its initial public offering in 2012, and Indonesia AirAsia is planned to list later this year.

Fernandes also says that the company will put increased emphasis on the Japanese and Philippine markets, where the low-cost carrier penetration "is still at its infancy and there is utmost growth".

"We have put in a strong management team who shares our vision and strategy which will enable them to achieve similar dominance like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia", he said.