New Haj airline on runway for Malaysian carrier

Malaysian Airlines is close to launching its new venture targeting the Saudi pilgrim market using its six Airbus A380s as it continues to recover from double disaster.

A Malaysia Airlines A380 takes off from London Heathrow. The carrier will use its six A380s on its new venture.
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Malaysia Airlines is finalising plans to form a new airline, utilising the six A380 aircraft it has, to service the Haj and Umrah market.

The national carrier said on Wednesday that it was already transporting Islamic pilgrims on charter flights to Saudi Arabia and was “in a good position to cater to increased passenger demand on this route”.

The recently appointed chief executive Peter Bellew said the carrier was now marketing more aggressively as it tries to win back confidence in the brand following two fatal air crashes in two years.

He accepted some passengers would choose to not fly with the company but praised the company’s resilience.

“To be able to survive two immense tragedies like that, that takes some backbone, that’s not normally something you’d have to deal with.

“Certainly in aviation its unprecedented what we’re having to do here. I can’t think of a business in my lifetime... that’s come back from the depths of the difficulties.”

Mr Bellew joined the airline in late June 2016, when Christoph Mueller left suddenly.

He said the airline needed to focus on the rise of travel among Chinese people, and that it would move quickly to profit from that “megatrend”.

But he conceded that Asia was a crowded market place and his airline had its work cut out, especially within Malaysia.

“The bit that we’re struggling with is amazingly low fares in the domestic market which for consumers is super but it makes it very difficult for airlines,” he told the BBC.

The former executive at Irish budget carrier Ryanair said another priority was focusing on a return to profit, including “the very boring discipline” of controlling costs.

“We’re being quite aggressive with suppliers, sometimes quite rude and ignorant maybe in the way we are approaching negotiations now which isn’t always the Asian way.”

The group expects to record a loss for the year 2016, although significantly smaller than initially expected. It remains cautious in its 2017 outlook but Mr Bellew predicted the loss-making airline would be in profit again by 2018.

And he said that a true test of its recovery would be a return to the stock market, possibly by 2019.

* Agencies

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