Aer Lingus boss Mueller chosen to head beleaguered Malaysia Airlines

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia’s government said Friday it has picked Christoph Mueller, the chief executive of Ireland’s Aer Lingus, as the new head of its beleaguered flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines.

He will be the first ever foreigner to head Malaysia Airlines, which was struggling with chronic financial problems before it was further hit this year by two deadly jet disasters.

State investment arm Khazanah Nasional, the parent company of Malaysia Airlines, said discussions are ongoing for Mueller to start work before his contract with Aer Lingus ends May 1 but “no earlier than March 1.”

Khazanah in August announced a $1.73 billion overhaul, which includes delisting the airline by year-end and cut 6,000 workers, or 30 per cent, of its current workforce of 20,000.

Mueller will be the CEO of a new company that will be launched in July 2015 to take over the existing Malaysia Airlines business and its reduced staff under the revamp.

“It is imperative that we have the best available talent with the expertise and experience to help drive the progress of the restructuring effort further forward,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement. “The government is committed to seeing through the complete overhaul of (the airline) to its successful conclusion.”

Mueller has been CEO of Aer Lingus since 2009, helping to turn around the Irish airline within a year despite tepid market conditions.

Khazanah aims to restore Malaysia Airlines to profitability by the end of 2017 and then relist its shares on the stock exchange by the end of 2019.

The airline’s business has suffered after a Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 people on board, mostly from China, went missing March 8 while en route to Beijing. No trace of it has been found. In July, a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

Last week, in its last public financial result before the privatization and overhaul, the flag carrier said its net loss in the July-September quarter rose 53 per cent from a year earlier to 576.1 million ringgit ($166 million).