KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Reuters) - Capital A's Tony Fernandes said on Wednesday he has agreed to put aside retirement plans and has signed a new five-year contract to continue as chief executive of the company, the operator of budget airline group AirAsia.

Fernandes, who said in January he intended to retire within the next five years, said he made the decision to renew his contract following requests from the company's board to stay on.

"Retirement plans had to be put on hold to ensure we survive," Fernandes told reporters.

Fernandes has headed the company since 2001, when he and business partner Kamarudin Meranun took over AirAsia from the Malaysian government for 1 ringgit, or about $0.30 at the time.

AirAsia, which began with two aircraft, has since grown to become one of Asia's largest airlines with a fleet of some 200 planes serving markets including Southeast Asia and China.

But it was hard hit by pandemic travel restrictions, leading Malaysia's bourse to classify Capital A as a PN17 company, or financially distressed.

Fernandes reiterated Capital A was working on a restructuring plan to lift the PN17 tag, expressing confidence that its aviation business will return to pre-pandemic levels by the second half of the year.

The company is also expected to announce updates to its

plan to merge

its long-haul unit AirAsia X with its other airline operations by the end of this month, Fernandes said.

"We hope by June, July, we will have all our aircraft back," he said. "2025 is when you’ll see AirAsia is better than in 2019."

AirAsia, a major customer of planemaker Airbus, may also consider other suppliers, including Chinese planemaker COMAC, as it looks to expand its fleet amid an industry-wide supply crunch, Fernandes said.

"Never say never... I think the most important thing is that we want to grow," he said.

AirAsia X's shares jumped 5% on Wednesday, compared with a 0.5% rise in Malaysia's benchmark share index. Capital A rose 1.5%.

($1 = 4.7740 ringgit) (Reporting by Danial Azhar; Writing by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by John Mair, Martin Petty and Kim Coghill)