Turnaround of Malaysia Airlines an 'unprecedented challenge', admits boss

Turnaround of Malaysia Airlines an 'unprecedented challenge', admits boss

Turning around Malaysia Airlines after the double tragedies of flights MH370 and MH17 is an "unprecedented" challenge, the carrier’s boss has admitted.

Former Ryanair executive Peter Bellew said the Asian carrier was now marketing more aggressively as it tries to win back confidence in the brand.

He accepted some passengers would choose to not fly with the airline.

But Bellew predicted the loss-making airline would be in profit again by 2018.

And he said that a true test of its recovery would be a return to the stock market, possibly by 2019.

Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing had 239 people on board when it vanished in March 2014. The Boeing 777 is presumed to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after veering off course.

Then in June, all 298 passengers and crew on MH17 died when a Boeing 777, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar, crashed in eastern Ukraine after being shot down as it passed over the war-torn country.

Many had not expected Malaysia Airlines to stay in business after the disasters, and passengers deserted them in droves.

"For ourselves and the staff here its obviously deeply personal so day-to-day it never leaves," Bellew said

"But to be able to survive two immense tragedies like that, that takes some backbone, that's not normally something you'd have to deal with.

"Certainly in aviation it’s unprecedented what we're having to do here. I can't think of a business in my lifetime... that's come back from the depths of the difficulties."

Bellew joined the airline in late June 2016, when Christoph Mueller left suddenly.

He said a top priority was to try and win back passengers and sell more tickets.

"I think there's certain people who may never travel with us again, but the bulk of people would consider it now," he told the BBC.

"We were quite quiet on the sales and marketing front and generally on the commercial side we were shy and hiding. So the last four months we've come out very aggressively."

He added that the airline needed to focus on the rise of travel among Chinese people, and that it would move quickly to profit from that "mega-trend".

But he conceded that Asia was a crowded market place and his airline had its work cut out, especially within Malaysia.

"The bit that we're struggling with is amazingly low fares in the domestic market which for consumers is super but it makes it very difficult for airlines."

Another priority was focusing on a return to profit, including "the very boring discipline" of controlling costs.

"We're being quite aggressive with suppliers, sometimes quite rude and ignorant maybe in the way we are approaching negotiations now which isn't always the Asian way," he said.

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