Long before one of its Boeing jumbo jets vanished into the tropical darkness, Malaysia Airlines was struggling to find its financial footing. The carrier has lost money for more than three years, beset by high costs, a proliferation of unprofitable new flying in its network, and two low-cost rivals at its home airport in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2013, Malaysia Airlines was one of the world’s few unprofitable carriers, returning a negative 4 percent operating margin—worse than every airline in the world save two in India, according to income data compiled by Airline Weekly, an industry journal. Globally, airlines averaged a 5 percent margin in 2013, and U.S. carriers returned 8 percent. Malaysia Airlines has lost more than $1.2 billion over the past three years; this year is likely to produce more red ink.