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AirAsia partner with Google to launch ‘tech academy’ in Asia

AirAsia and Google's new facility planned to open by years end

AirAsia Group is to co-found a technology training facility with tech giant Google, as the most significant budget carrier in Southeast Asia continues its drive to become a technology-led airline.

AirAsia Group President Aireen Omar informed the Nikkei Asian Review that new technology talent would play a vital role in the group’s development of new businesses. Helping fulfil Group CEO Tony Fernandes’ plans to turn AirAsia into a digital disrupter of the era.

“Because of our long-term partnership with them, we asked Google why not collaborate with us to set up a technology academy, and they agreed,” Aireen said in an interview with Nikkei.

Tim Synan, the regional director for Southeast Asia at Google Cloud, said the AirAsia-Google Cloud Academy is a collaboration between the RedBeat Ventures at AirAsia and Google Cloud.

“Together we’re collaborating to upskill AirAsia AllStars with expertise in Google Cloud technologies, and develop great technical skills and Cloud expertise in Kubernetes, smart analytics, Cloud AI and more,” Synan said.

“Google Cloud and our authorised training partners also offer Cloud training and facilitation to AirAsia AllStars through self-paced labs, on-demand courses via Coursera, classroom training and advanced solutions labs with Google Cloud Certifications.” Last year, AirAsia revealed plans to expand its online service to include flight bookings.

Fernandes is finding new sources of revenue as earnings fall in the face of rising fuel costs and intensifying demand.

Last year he told Nikkei that he planned to spend 100 million Malaysian ringgit ($24.6 million) a year and use the data collected from the 100 million passengers he brings to build an “Amazon of travel.” In June 2018, AirAsia’s technology subsidiary Redbeat Ventures purchased nine non-airline tech companies from AirAsia to concentrate on the development of non-core businesses in the aviation industry.

The nine firms included AirAsia BIG Loyalty, BigPay e-money service provider, Travel360 in-flight website, ROKKI Wi-Fi operator in-flight, Ourshop duty-free network, RedCargo Logistics and RedBox Logistics enterprises, as well as Vidi travel company and RedTix online ticketing platform.

Fernandes announced last month that Redbeat Ventures would launch five restaurants and franchise 100 cafes internationally over the next three to five years, including London and New York, as well as towns in China and Australia.

“We can’t be a lifestyle brand without food,” Fernandes said after the company launched its first fast-food restaurant. “Our airline food has been successful.[ We are] the first airline ever to commercialise food.” Most non-airline units in the group are in red, except for the logistics arm Teleport, which recorded a small operating profit of 62,12 million ringgit. Such firms have accounted for less than 6 per cent of AirAsia’s total revenue over the quarter ended in September.

At a period of industry overcapacity and low passenger traffic, AirAsia’s software academy initiative comes in the middle of tumbling earnings and increasing fuel costs as carriers struggle with fierce competition.

That has, in turn, prompted AirAsia to reel back global growth, divest some of its assets and, in the longer term, switch into an asset-light model.

The first initiative of its kind for AirAsia, as well as for Google, Aireen said by the end of this year the training facility would be open to public students.

“For a start, the academy will be open to internal AirAsia employees next month who want to be re-skilled to suit our current and future business operations,” said Aireen.

As more procedures are standardised, the training facility would also act as a kind of “tech talent pipeline” to help retrain AirAsia workers to other positions within the company.

“More jobs might become redundant in the next three years, so we are giving our employees the opportunities to reskill to suit the digital economy,” Aireen said.

Digital marketing, digital product strategy, software engineering and computer technology construction and design courses are amongst the courses to be presented.

Aireen said the academy would have its dedicated site, with all the courses offered for Google to accredit.

Google and AirAsia have a long-term relationship that started in October 2018 when AirAsia and Google Cloud joined forces to incorporate Google Cloud’s machine learning and artificial intelligence into its business processes and drive its transition into a global airline.

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