Malaysia Airlines prepares for rebranding, CEO Christoph Mueller says

Nicknamed 'The Terminator', Malaysia Airlines chief executive Christoph Mueller has a history of turning struggling ...
JOHN ANTHONY/FAIRFAX NZ

Nicknamed 'The Terminator', Malaysia Airlines chief executive Christoph Mueller has a history of turning struggling airlines around.

Malaysia Airlines will undergo a massive rebranding exercise, including a possible name change, in an attempt to reinvent itself following its two aviation disasters in 2014.

The struggling airline has already gone through a significant restructure after the disappearance of MH370 in March 2014 and the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine four months later.

Following the twin tragedies, which claimed a total of 537 lives, the airline announced a five-year recovery plan which has so far resulted in the Malaysian government taking full ownership of the company, and a new chief executive and management team being introduced.

"We still fly with the old brand, but that is simply because we cannot afford to paint all the aircraft overnight," ...
DAMIR SAGOLJ/REUTERS

"We still fly with the old brand, but that is simply because we cannot afford to paint all the aircraft overnight," Mueller said.

The airline also trimmed its staff from 20,000 to 14,000 as part of a huge cost-cutting exercise.

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On September 1 Malaysia Airlines started life as a new entity when its holding company, Malaysian Airline System Berhad (MAS), changed to Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB).

Speaking in Malaysia on Thursday, new chief executive Christoph Mueller said the company would announce a rebranding strategy in December. A raft of improvements to the airline's products and services would be rolled out from the first quarter of 2016.

"The entire brand just needs a refresh," Mueller said.

Asked whether Malaysia Airlines would be renamed, Mueller said the  changes would be revealed in December.

The new company was now essentially a "start up" with new ideas, culture and values, he said.

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"We still fly with the old brand, but that is simply because we cannot afford to paint all the aircraft overnight."

Before 2014 the airline had a solid reputation, winning a range of high profile Skytrax awards between 2001 and 2013.

But Mueller said the airline had fallen behind over the past three years.

Earlier this year he said the company was bankrupt and had been struggling financially since long before the 2014 disasters.

"We would be denying the facts if we were to say everything was good," Mueller said.

He said it was now time to "pull the carriage out of the mud", and the beginning of 2016 would mark a "step change" for the company.

"It's not done in just giving an airline another name or repainting the aircraft - you really have to make the customer experience change."

In the 18 months following the December announcement, the airline would begin installing new cabin seating and improving inflight entertainment, customer service and on time performance.

New technology, catering and lounge concepts would be introduced and employee uniforms could be changed.

New leased Airbus A350s, due to arrive in 2017, would also be introduced to the fleet.

The product improvements were designed to renew customers' trust and confidence in the airline and to keep up with competition, he said.

Prior to joining Malaysia Airlines, Mueller was chief executive of Ireland's national carrier Aer Lingus, a loss-making airline he managed to turnaround within a year.

He also helped turn around Lufthansa between 1994 and 1999 and before that Belgium's Sabena, earning him the nickname "The Terminator" for his job-slashing.

Mueller, a pilot himself, said support for Malaysia Airlines in its own market was the strongest he had ever witnessed for a national carrier, with 70 per cent of the travelling public favouring the airline.

"We are carried by a loyalty I've never experienced and I've been in charge of a couple of national carriers in my past experience"

In Australia however, Malaysia Airlines was not well supported, largely because the search for MH370 was carried out from Perth and a lack of evidence found had affected public sentiment, he said.

Other markets such as India and France had not been affected by the twin tragedies, he said.

In ASEAN and north Asia the airline still had a very good reputation, he said.

Malaysia Airlines axed its daily services to Brisbane in August and reduced services in other Australian cities.

Malaysia Airlines offers the only direct service between Auckland and Kuala Lumpur, which Mueller said would definitely continue.

"Auckland is a very successful market."

- John Anthony travelled to Kuala Lumpur courtsey of Malaysia Airlines and Tourism Malaysia

 - Stuff

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