New CEO wants to make Malaysia Airlines the best in Asia

Peter Bellew

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines’ new Chief Executive Officer Peter Bellew says his work at the airline is going to be the “biggest turnaround in history”.

He believes that Malaysia Airlines, which has been losing mountains of money for years, has great talent.

“The depth of experience among people here is better than what you would see in most carriers in Europe. I think the airline just required a bit more leadership in the short term,” he told the Irish Independent in an interview.

Bellew, who joined Malaysia Airlines’ as chief operating officer last September, was appointed CEO on July 1, following the surprise departure of Christoph Mueller who had put in place initiatives to turn the airlines around.

Last February, Malaysia Airlines recorded a profit – the first time in years it had been in the black for any single month.

“The first quarter went well. The second quarter is trickier (because of Ramadan), but we’re generally on track. We forecast a loss for the year, but it will be less than we anticipated,” said Bellew.

Bellew said he had not encountered any difficulties just because he was from outside the country and helping to run a company to which intense national pride is attached.

“I haven’t experienced any of that. People couldn’t have been more welcoming. It’s an extremely sophisticated country,” he said.

The challenge, he said, was in managing the cultural differences of staff. “You have to try and balance that and meet people half way. I think for an Irish person, that’s easier. Most Irish people take people as they come.”

Malaysia Airlines has axed all but one of its Europe-bound long-haul flights, only retaining its link with London (it uses an A380 double-decker on the route). It inked a codeshare agreement with Emirates to serve many destinations.

But it continues to directly serve a number of countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan and India.

“We’ve invested a huge amount of money in upgrading food, the whole fleet is being deep-cleaned, punctuality has improved and we’re not losing as many bags,” he told the Irish Independent.

“The emphasis is going to be on being the airline of choice in the Asian region,” added Bellew. “Our business to Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan is very strong. I think that’s what we’ll be looking to capitalise on.”

Bellew said the target was for the airline to make a profit in 2018, and hopefully float on the stock market again in 2019. He said there would be a “significant reduction” this year on the loss racked up in 2015.

In the meantime, it has new aircraft – six A350s – that will join the fleet late next year. They’ll be used on the route to London and some Asian routes. The airline currently has almost 80 aircraft.

“That’s a significant product improvement, and will bring our costs down further,” according to Bellew.

Bellew said the biggest challenge now was in the commercial and sales structure, and managing the costs and keeping them down.

Bellew, from Meath, Ireland, is married with four kids. He told the Irish Independent that his family was now used to living in Malaysia.

“They’re already into their banana leaf rice and speaking Malay slang,” he said.