Malaysia Airlines CEO resigns

A Boeing 747-4H6. Source: Flickr



Malaysia Airlines has announced that chief executive Christoph Mueller is leaving the troubled carrier in September.

Mueller’s exit was due to “changing personal circumstances”, it said. The 54-year-old was hired last May on a three-year contract to revive the state-controlled airline after years of heavy losses.

Mueller, a turnaround expert, formally began his job last May to oversee the overhaul that included axing 6,000 jobs and ditching unprofitable routes.

“I am proud of what we have achieved as a team in such a short time … unfortunately, personal circumstances will make it difficult for me to complete my full term,” Mueller announced in a statement.

Mueller said he was confident the carrier was now on the right track to succeed under a new CEO.

The search is now on for a replacement while Mueller would remain on the carrier’s board as a non-executive director, Malaysia Airlines said.

It is a setback for the airline which was beginning to show signs of recovering from 2014’s loss of two Boeing 777s in separate disasters, the disappearance of Flight 370 and the loss of another plane shot down over Ukraine, that triggered a 6 billion ringgit (US$1.55 billion) state-restructuring programme. Though still running at a loss, it has reported improved traffic and punctuality performances and last month Mueller forecast that the airline would be in annual profit by 2018.

In an interview two weeks ago, Mueller described the airline as a “ship that has many leaks”.

Mohshin Aziz, a Maybank Investment Bank in Kuala Lumpur analyst, said: “Mueller is a war general, he came in at the worst time. A change of management can’t help, a lot of people might feel things are uncertain.”

Mueller previously steered the financial recovery of Ireland’s ailing national carrier Aer Lingus. In Malaysia he appointed an experienced team of executives to run operations, commercial and marketing departments.

Contracts with suppliers and leasing firms were renegotiated, new A350 aircraft were leased from the Airbus Group that were cheaper to operate and the operator refocused on the growing Asian market, rather than long-haul destinations.

Malaysia Airlines said it had appointed chief operating officer Peter Bellew, formerly with Irish budget carrier Ryanair, as acting executive.

An anonymous airline insider said: “They need someone with Christoph’s vision for the airline’s future, the drive to push the changes through, and the nous to manage the politics that come with running a state-owned airline. They did well to get Christoph, but it may be even harder to find an adequate replacement.”