Aer Lingus chief tapped to turn MAS around

Christoph Mueller, a known aviation turnaround specialist, appointed CEO and is expected to groom a local successor

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA has appointed the current head of Irish national carrier Aer Lingus as the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB), the new entity taking over from Malaysian Airline System (MAS).

Christoph Mueller, a German, is the first foreigner to head the beleaguered Malaysian carrier, which has not been profitable since the mid-1990s. It has bled some RM9 billion (S$3.4 billion) in red ink over the last four years.

Mr Mueller, the result of the Malaysian government looking far afield for the right person for the job, is considered an aviation turnaround specialist; he had reversed Aer Lingus' losses within a year.

He will become CEO-designate on Jan 1 next year, and assume the position at MAS when his contract with Aer Lingus ends on May 1. Pending the outcome of talks, he could, however, join MAS earlier, though this will not happen before March 1.

In a statement, state investment agency and MAS's largest shareholder Khazanah Nasional said that the appointment of Mr Mueller, who is expected to groom a local successor, follows an "extensive global leadership search from among suitable and available talent" from both inside and outside the aviation industry.

Mr Mueller has also been made MAB non-executive director and is one of a 12-men board which has retained MAS chairman Mohd Nor Yusof as non-executive chairman.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said: "The appointments announced today are part of efforts by the government and Khazanah to lay strong foundations for the future success of our national carrier. It is imperative that we have the best available talent with the expertise and experience to drive the progress of the restructuring effort further forward, lead the airline to profitability and groom a Malaysian successor to assume the leadership of the airline in the future.

"The government is committed to seeing through the complete overhaul of MAS to its successful completion."

Khazanah has proposed a RM6 billion revamp of MAS, which remains on schedule. The last day for trading in the airline's shares under its privatisation and delisting plan is Dec 15.

MAB is expected to commence operations in July next year.

Last month, the MAS Administration Bill passed into law, allowing MAB to take over the operations of MAS. This legislation provides for an administrator who will have full immunity from exercising powers to run the airline.

Khazanah expects MAB to be profitable in three years and to be listed by 2019.

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