MALAYSIA Airlines’ (MAS) second phase long-term turnaround plan is much anticipated, as it may help the national carrier strengthen its financial position and operations to face present and future challenges.
It has been reported that MAS is in discussions with its stakeholders and board of directors and will update the market once the turnaround plan is ready.
MAS was taken private by Khazanah Nasional Bhd as part of a five-year turnaround programme that began in 2014; the carrier may continue to bleed currently though, due to intense competition from regional peers and Gulf carriers.
Some analysts claim that the Malaysia Airlines Recovery Plan (MRP), set out by Khazanah in 2015, has not succeeded as it has not fixed all legacy issues. They say Khazanah should take a fresh look at the airline and not be afraid to tackle sensitive issues that remain despite multiple restructuring attempts.
While these arguments may hold water, I disagree with other proposals that say MAS should be completely shut down or Khazanah should sell it to interested parties or spin off its business divisions.
But MAS is an important instrument of policy. It is also a key economic enabler and a strategic asset that shouldn’t just be set aside.
While some may say that MAS’ days as a national carrier are numbered as it has failed to meet its three-year target to be profitable, we should ensure we give our all to fix it and ensure that the company is fit for future generations.
I believe that what we should do right now is to give the MRP a chance to achieve positive results. That is why this second phase of the long-term plan is essential. Any turnaround plan involving an important and strategic company like MAS should be extended beyond five years and adjusted with more realistic financial goals.
MAS group chief executive officer Captain Izham Ismail has admitted that last year was extremely challenging as the airline was hampered by intense competition, by supply outstripping demand, and by volatility in fuel prices and foreign exchange rates.
Capt Izham has explained that the problems faced by the national carrier is tremendous and not a quick fix. We should not forget that he inherited a company already reeling from poor performance and two tragedies involving its aircraft.
At the same time, the market is now driven by leisure, not business, passengers, and the former are far more price sensitive. They normally prefer low-cost travel and their movements are also seasonal.
Despite all these challenges, MAS announced that it recorded marginally lower losses last year.
MAS has also seen great qualitative improvement, with its customer satisfaction index rising 4% last year while its net promoter score increased by a significant 22 points in the same time period with all customer touch points scoring better than the previous year.
The on-time performance (OTP) and mishandled baggage areas have also improved, with OTP now hovering around the 85% mark, significantly better than a year before.
I hope that MAS can continue with the good results, and that its management will engage more with stakeholders, especially the staff and their unions, who understand the real issues on the ground.
I understand that Capt Izham holds frequent sessions with small groups of staff by himself without other management team members. Employees are therefore more encouraged to talk and share issues they are facing.
Such engagement is very important as it can help boost staff morale.
As a frequent flyer and loyal customer of MAS for more than 40 years, I too have received feedback from staff members on the challenges they face.
We should pay tribute to all MAS flight attendants, as they have always received accolades for excellent cabin crew services. In fact, MAS clinched the Best Airline in Asia Award at this year’s International Council of Pacific Area Travel Writers Association’s International Travel Awards in Berlin yesterday – this is reputed to be one of the travel industry’s most coveted awards.
Instead of engaging too many external experts who may not know the real situation on the ground, MAS should instead engage its staff, their unions and passengers on how to improve further.
To return to its previous glory, MAS must never compromise on the quality of its services while improving its financial performance.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE