Missing AirAsia flight QZ8501: Business mogul and QPR chairman Tony Fernandes who transformed AirAsia

Fernandes took over AirAsia 13 years ago and turned it into the region’s fourth largest carrier

Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian business tycoon, took over the ailing government-linked commercial airline AirAsia 13 years ago and transformed it into a hugely successful budget airline.

Fernandes, who had worked his way up through the music industry at both Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Records and at Warner Music International, mortgaged his home and his personal savings to buy the airline in 2001. He bought it for the equivalent of 25p and took on the carrier’s only two aircraft, a pair of Boeing 737-300 jets, and debts of more than £7 million.

The businessman turned it into a low-cost airline with the tag line “Now everyone can fly,” and today it is the fourth largest carrier in the region.

Fernandes, who is the chairman of England’s football team QPR and former owner of F1 team Caterham, had a net worth of $650 million (£418 million) as of February according to Forbes, which listed him as the 28th richest person in Malaysia.

The entrepreneur, who was educated in Malaysia before attending Epsom College in Surrey, and later the London School of Economics, said he had “always dreamt about doing a long haul, low-cost airline,” and made sure his first flight on the carrier was London to Kuala Lumpur.

Before joining the airline industry Fernandes had been the financial controller of Virgin Communications before joining Warner Music International in 1989. He worked his way up to become vice president of Warner Music South East Asia in 1999, but decided to leave when he felt the music industry was not moving with the times and embracing the online age.

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In 2010 Fernandes bought the Formula One Team Lotus Racing, which has since been renamed as Caterham, which he owned until this year.

He bought QPR in 2011 and has described his lifelong commitment to the team “like a marriage”.

In the same year he was awarded a CBE, and is an Officer of the Legion d'Honneur in France, the highest honour a non-national can receive.

Additional reporting by PA

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