- German fills newly created chief innovation officer role
- Gulf giant suffered first sales slump in a decade last year
Christoph Mueller, previously chief executive officer at Malaysia Airlines Bhd., joins Persian Gulf carrier Emirates this month in a newly created position that will see him play a significant management role at the biggest airline by international traffic.
The German, who also ran Ireland’s Aer Lingus and former Belgian flag carrier Sabena, starts on Sept. 20 as chief digital and innovation officer, Emirates said in response to questions from Bloomberg News.
Emirates has expanded to become the world’s No. 1 long-haul airline after exploiting Dubai’s position at a crossroads between Europe and the Americas and Asia, the Middle East and Africa to siphon off lucrative transfer traffic. Still, annual sales fell for the first time in a decade in the year through March as the oil-price decline depresses local demand and the carrier struggles to find worthwhile new inter-continental routes.
The carrier’s President Tim Clark, 66, has also met resistance to the expansion of Emirates in Europe and the U.S., where rival carriers say the company has benefited from unfair state funding, while failing to persuade Airbus Group SE to help renew the industry’s biggest wide-body jet fleet by upgrading its A380 superjumbo model.
Emirates employees were informed of Mueller’s imminent arrival in a communication this week. He’ll report to Clark and Gary Chapman, who heads the group’s aviation services operations, including ground handling and catering specialist Dnata.
The executive, who turns 55 in December, was hired by Malaysia Air in March 2015 after its reputation and sales were hit by two aircraft losses the previous year, one involving a plane that disappeared over the Indian Ocean, the other a missile strike on a jet flying above a Ukrainian war zone. His strategy halted losses by recasting Kuala Lumpur as a hub for Asian rather than global travel, while cutting 6,000 jobs and shrinking capacity by almost one-third.
Despite his successes, Mueller announced in April that he was leaving Malaysia Air, citing unspecified personal reasons beyond his control. He agreed to serve a six-month notice period that was due to end this month, though stood down earlier after the carrier announced Chief Operating Officer Peter Bellew as his successor at the end of June.
At Aer Lingus, Mueller streamlined short-haul operations, resolved pension disputes and transformed the carrier’s Dublin base into a trans-Atlantic hub. That strategy prompted Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways owner IAG SA, to make a successful takeover bid.