AirAsia co-founder proposes plan to save Malaysia Airlines

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 4, 2019.

Under Pahamin and his group’s plan, Malaysia Airlines would remain a premium full-service carrier while FlyFirefly would be transformed into ‘Asean’s first ultra low-cost carrier focusing on millennials’.

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KUALA LUMPUR: A group of businessmen, led AirAsia Group Bhd’s co-founder and former chairman Datuk Pahamin Ab Rajab, met Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday to express their interest in helping the government turn around the ailing Malaysia Airlines Bhd, said sources.

A source close to the matter told The Edge Financial Daily that during the meeting, the group sought the approval of the premier, who is also chairman of Khazanah Nasional Bhd — the sole shareholder of Malaysia Airlines — to conduct due diligence on the national carrier in order to find the right solution.

The entire due diligence process can easily take anywhere from six to nine months.

In April, The Edge Malaysia weekly, citing a person familiar with the matter, reported that the group, which also comprises investors from an aviation background, was considering buying a minority stake in the national carrier but wanted control of the board and management.

Likening the proposal to the current ownership structure of national carmaker Proton Holdings Bhd, where Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group holds a 49.9% stake but is in the driver’s seat, the person said the group was confident that Malaysia Airlines would have a greater chance of succeeding as it would be led entrepreneurs.

Under the group’s plan, Malaysia Airlines would remain a premium full-service carrier while FlyFirefly Sdn Bhd would be transformed into “Asean’s first ultra low-cost carrier focusing on millennials”, the person had added.

Separately, another group comprising former Malaysian Airline System Bhd employees and several private individuals had also expressed interest in helping the government turn around Malaysia Airlines. The group, led corporate lawyer Shahril Lamin, had proposed to build the carrier back to what it was during the profitable years and to turn it profitable within two-and-a-half to three years.

Meanwhile, Pahamin’s name has been brought up in recent weeks to take over the chairmanship of Malaysia Airlines and its parent Malaysia Aviation Group Bhd after the position was left vacant following the resignation of Tan Sri Mohammed Nor Md Yusof on March 1.

Pahamin was the director-general of the road transport department at the ministry of transport from 1974 to 1998, and the secretary-general of the ministry of domestic trade and consumer affairs from 1998 to 2001.

He also spent seven years as the non-executive chairman of low-cost carrier AirAsia, a post he was appointed to on Dec 14, 2001, before retiring on June 3, 2008.

On March 12, Dr Mahathir reportedly said the government was studying whether to shut, sell or refinance the loss-making Malaysia Airlines after four failed restructuring attempts, and that a decision would be made soon.

According to the Companies Commission of Malaysia’s (SSM) filing, Malaysia Airlines’ net loss increased 85% year-on-year to RM812.11 million for the financial year ended Dec 31, 2017 (FY17). It lost RM2.35 billion between 2015 and 2017.

It has yet to file its financial statements for FY18 with SSM.