Malaysia Air Gets Third CEO in Two Years as Revamp to Continue

Malaysia Air Names Peter Bellew CEO
  • Peter Bellew to succeed after Mueller’s April resignation
  • New CEO “will ensure continuity” of carrier’s turnaround plan

Malaysia Airlines Bhd. named its third chief executive officer in two years amid a business overhaul after two fatal air crashes in 2014 prompted the carrier’s owner to take the company private.

The airline, now fully owned by the nation’s sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd., promoted Chief Operating Officer Peter Bellew to the top job after Christoph Mueller resigned in April about less than half way into his three-year tenure. The appointment takes effect Friday, three months before Mueller was scheduled to leave.

“His appointment will ensure continuity in the execution of the turnaround plan and further progress of the overall restructuring effort,” Malaysia Air said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.

After Khazanah took the airline private in 2014, Mueller was tasked the following year with leading a 6 billion-ringgit ($1.5 billion) restructuring plan. The proposal included 6,000 job cuts and scrapping of long-haul destinations to help revive the unprofitable carrier struggling to win back passengers spooked by a plane that vanished and another that was shot down.

Ryanair Stint

Bellew joined Malaysia Air in September from Ryanair Holdings Plc, where he ended his stint as director of flight operations after various roles since 2006 at the Dublin-based carrier. He previously founded an online travel agency in Ireland and was a managing director at that country’s Kerry Airport, according to Malaysia Air’s website.

The new chief will continue with the strategy “because they were on track in terms of recovery, and they’d want to stay on track,” said Shekhar Jaiswal, an analyst at RHB Research Institute, who covers airlines and other transportation companies. “I would get worried if a new CEO comes in and says ‘we need to turn around, let’s hire more people, bring back all the long-haul aircraft.”’

Malaysia Air should resist unwinding a turnaround strategy that’s cut 6,000 jobs and reduced capacity by almost a third, Mueller said in an interview in June. The carrier is ahead of schedule with its restructuring, having reached break even recently, putting it on course for a full-year profit in 2018 as targeted if not earlier, he said.

When he quit in April, Mueller cited reasons that were personal and beyond his control.

Passenger Confidence

Under Mueller’s tenure, Malaysia Air scrapped many European routes, relying on a code-share agreement with Dubai-based Emirates for longer-haul destinations and eschewing its traditional model of linking Europe and Australia via Southeast Asia. A network restructuring aimed at establishing the airline’s Kuala Lumpur base as a hub for regional travel is 90 percent complete, Mueller said in November last year.

Malaysia Air is due to take delivery of four wide-body A350-900 aircraft starting October 2017, allowing non-stop flights from Kuala Lumpur to London and throughout Asia, Mueller said in the company’s quarterly update in March.

Passenger confidence in Malaysia Air took a dive two years ago when MH370 vanished en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, and remains missing to date. The carrier lost another aircraft four months later, when MH17 was shot down over Ukraine.

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