Aer Lingus CEO picked to helm troubled Malaysia Airlines

[KUALA LUMPUR] Troubled Malaysia Airlines has picked the head of Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus, Christoph Mueller, as its future CEO as the airline struggles to recover from its two devastating disasters this year, it was announced on Friday.

Mr Mueller will take over by mid-2015, said an announcement by Khazanah Nasional, the Malaysia state investment fund that controls the ailing airline.

German citizen Mr Mueller took the helm of Aer Lingus in 2009 and initiated a turnaround strategy that involved hefty job cuts. He previously occupied top positions at German flag carrier Lufthansa and the former Belgian carrier Sabena.

"Mr Mueller has a strong record of transformation and turnarounds in the aviation industry," Khazanah said.

"Among his key accomplishments, Mr Mueller has demonstrated particular strength in strategic and financial planning, as well as structural repositioning of companies in difficulties."

Khazanah has launched a rescue plan to save the national airline after the losses of flights MH370 and MH17 threatened to send it into bankruptcy.

The disasters compounded huge financial losses in recent years, which analysts have blamed on poor management, unwise business decisions, government meddling and a failure to meet the challenge of low-cost upstarts like Malaysia's successful AirAsia.

The carrier's poor business standing has left it ill-equipped to face the impact of the air disasters, which have severely dented passenger bookings.

Khazanah, which owns around 70 per cent of the carrier, plans to acquire all remaining shares and take the carrier private in a bid to resuscitate it.

Khazanah has already announced restructuring plans including pumping RM6 billion (US$1.73 billion) into the airline, slashing 6,000 jobs - or 30 per cent of its workforce - and trimming its route network.

Replacing its chief executive was also announced as a key priority.

Khazanah has been criticised in the past for picking CEOs who lacked aviation industry experience. Current boss Ahmad Jauhari Yahya came from an energy background.

His stock plummeted in the aftermath of MH370, when the airline's response to the disaster was severely criticised by passengers' families as chaotic, secretive and insensitive.

Malaysia Airlines said on Thursday that its shares would be suspended from the country's stock exchange on December 15 as part of the rescue plan.

MH370 disappeared in March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. The airliner, carrying 239 people, is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, but no trace has been found.

MH17 went down in July in rebellion-torn eastern Ukraine - believed hit by a surface-to-air missile - killing all 298 aboard.

Malaysia Airlines previously had a solid safety record.


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