MAS group managing director chief executive officer Peter Bellew believes the MAS brand remains strong as passengers, travel agents and the public have returned to the airline. BLOOMBERG PIC

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAS) enters the Year of the Rooster with two main goals — to break even by end of this year and be profitable next year while rebuilding its brand as the national carrier of Malaysia.

MAS group managing director and chief executive officer (CEO) Peter Bellew said the mindset within MAS was already geared towards achieving the goals and ensuring a sustainable success in the future.

“Now, there is a belief among the staff that it’s going to be successful; that we will make it. We will achieve the goals that we have set to turn the airline around in the next couple of years,” he told NST Business in an exclusive interview.

The 51-year-old Irishman added that MAS would also be relisted some time in the first quarter of 2019.

With the ringgit’s decline against the US dollar and oil price volatility, Bellew said MAS would aggressively bring costs down by renegotiating with suppliers as well as negotiate for better airport charges overseas and overflight charges.

MAS will also use more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and the Boeing B737 MAX to ensure lower expenses.

The airline will receive two A350s by end-October and four more next year while the B737 will be delivered at the end of 2019.

Bellew, who has over 30 years of experience in the aviation sector, believes the MAS brand remains strong as passengers, travel agents and the public have returned to the airline after it worked tirelessly last year to re-engage with them while focusing on sales and marketing.

“We are now up at the 80 per cent load factor. You don’t get back up into the 80 per cent load factor if people don’t love your brand. Obviously, there was nothing wrong with the brand. We just didn’t tell anybody that we existed,” he added.

Besides offering luxury as a new travel experience, MAS will maintain its value-added fares on 15 to 20 per cent of its economy class seats, particularly for adventurous travellers who seek thrill and excitement such as surfers, hikers, mountaineers and cyclists.

Bellew said based on in-house research that was done in the last six months, there were a high number of adventurous leisure travellers who flew on MAS to Malaysia and other Asean countries.

He said the airline was doing its biggest promotional campaign in London to attract the adventurous European travellers as well as business guests to Malaysia this year.

On the Kuala Lumpur–London route, Bellew said it had been a huge success with the Airbus A380 aircraft almost always full on each trip since last year.

Back in July last year, MAS’s market share on the London-Kuala Lumpur route was down to 45 per cent.

“We’ve got right back up to 60 per cent now, which is a great result,” he said.

The airline will also progressively refurbish its Golden Lounges at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Kuching International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport starting this year.

Bellew said MAS was open to working with third parties to operate the lounges, but had no plans to sell them.

“We have seen interest but the more I looked at it, the more I feel we have to keep it under direct control. It’s a core part of the proposition,” he added.

Summing up last year, Bellew said 2016 ended very well for MAS with a higher number of passengers as it regained the confidence of travellers and business partners.

Bellew, previously MAS chief operating officer, assumed the managing director and CEO roles in July last year, replacing Christoph Mueller, an airline turnaround specialist brought in by Malaysia Aviation Group’s sole shareholder, Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

The German had brought in other airline specialists including Bellew, who was a former director of flight operation at Europe’s budget carrier Ryanair Ltd.

In April last year, Mueller shocked the local aviation industry by announcing that he was stepping down due to a change in his personal circumstances.

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