Interview: Malaysia Airlines – The Unanswered Questions

Interview: Malaysia Airlines – The Unanswered Questions
By admin


To say Malaysia Airlines has had a turbulent year would be a gross understatement. The airline suffered two major incidents causing the loss of over 500 lives within a matter of months. With MH370’s whereabouts still unknown, the carrier has struggled to regain customer confidence globally with some markets taking longer to bounce back. However, in Australia, travellers are taking advantage of sale fares and the trade is largely the reason why load factors are up, with the airline revealing travel agent bookings contribute up to 70% of its business. 

Travel Today speaks to Malaysia Airlines director of commercial, Hugh Dun­leavy, during his visit to Sydney, as well as regional senior vice president, PK Lee, on achieving double-digit passenger growth in the Australasian market.  

Here's part one of the exclusive interview:

Travel Today: Are you a safe airline?

Dunleavy: Malaysia airlines have had an excellent safety record, we have certifications from UK, Europe, Australia and United States because we maintain aircraft in those jurisdictions. So we don’t just satisfy our own national safety standards, we satisfy international standards as well. So yes, we are very safe. 

I know that sounds strange in the light of two major incidents in the same year. For MH370 we still don’t know what happened to that aircraft or where its final location is. For MH17 it was more definitive, it was shot down by a military organisation in the Ukraine. That’s outside the purview of any airline to withstand any such attack. We’re a civilian aircraft; we don’t have anti-missile systems on board. 

MH17 were following a flight corridor deemed safe by ICAO. 115 national aircraft a day flew over the Ukraine. 

We happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. That is a tremendous human tragedy.

Travel Today: What are the implications of the loss of MH17?

Dunleavy: I think there has to be some major outcomes from MH17, and I’ve asked that ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] and IATA [International Civil Aviation Organisation] work together with national governments to improve the designation of safe air traffic corridors, because clearly whatever standards they used to designate as safe were not strict enough. But you also have to get government agencies to be willing to release information [in almost real time] to ICAO. You need to have some real credible evidence, but getting that can be the challenge. Military intelligence is an oxymoron. 

It is an industry issue. So I think the outcome of this will be when we implement more secure standards around designating safe corridors; it will be an improvement in the industry overall.

Travel Today: Will Malaysia Airlines rebrand?

Dunleavy: I do not believe so. The reason is Malaysia Airlines is probably one of the best known brands in the world at the moment. Because we’re a national brand – rebranding the airline, renaming the airline – it still will have some reference to Malaysia in it. The minute I do that, people are automatically going to say that’s still Malaysia Airlines rebranded, it’s still the same Malaysia Airlines. That’s going to be the challenge. We’re a national carrier, so to change the national carrier’s name and rebrand it is a bigger challenge. Quite frankly, what would be the benefit of that?

People would say you’re just doing it for commercial reasons and you’re trying to shrug off responsibility and accountability. We are not going to do that, we are an ethical company and Malaysia Airlines will stand by its product and services and we will recover the trust and confidence in this airline.

Travel Today: What plans are in place to actively change your image in the minds of consumers?

Dunleavy: There are a couple of approaches. Tactical advertising marketing campaigns that will trigger and stimulate traffic, however, to rebuild trust and confidence in a brand as a whole, that takes time. We need to continue to operate with excellent on time performance and make sure our safety record is maintained. Yes we are going through a restructuring, but safety is our number one priority and will continue to be so. We will behave ethically and take care of next of kin.

We will make sure we talk to the trade, we engage with the trade at all levels to present the professionalism and consistent quality of product that we offer and our continued investment in these products and services – but that’s going to be long term; a long journey. I think we’ve got a multiple year journey.

As part of the restructuring of the airline, we’re thinking about delisting the airline from December. Then over the next three years we will restructure the airline – it is not just about head count issues, it’s about the business model, it’s about business processes and rebuilding the brand and reputation – and resetting the airline to get it back to profitability and then bring it back to the public domain by relisting on the stock market.

It is over that three period to work hard to regain that trust and confidence that we were previously blessed with.

Travel Today: In a first for the national carrier, will the new CEO be a foreigner?

Dunleavy: I know there’s three or four candidates for the new CEO role, but no one will be told until it’s announced. There are both domestic-Malaysian and international candidates as well.

Travel Today: Are you cutting routes?

Dunleavy: The size of the fleet of the airline is not going to change. We might put out the frequency from one city, but I won’t sit out the aircraft. I am not cancelling any flights at this stage. I may do seasonal schedules but we will be operating in Australia, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe. The size of my wide-body fleet is not changing. We are going to focus on growing in this region, and the regions that are not growing as quickly I won’t expand in those areas.

Travel Today: What are you doing to ensure safety onboard following sexual assault allegations by a passeneger?

Dunleavy: We do not accept any of that type of behaviour. We will not tolerate that. And we will take the appropriate action so those people don’t operate with us again.

We do take very great care in how we recruit people. We will look through our filtering process of how people are recruited.

Travel Today: Load factors, what are they now?

Dunleavy: In Australia and New Zealand load factors are now averaging above 70%, but it’s important to put that in perspective as that is in the face of a 34% capacity expansion in February, so Malaysia Airlines is ahead at the same time last year. I’d like it to be more; we put the extra capacity in as we were responding to demand and expanded accordingly. At one stage we were even looking to put in an A380 but we couldn’t do that because of the bilateral agreement. That’s how strong and big the commitment was to the Australian market.

Travel Today: What about passenger numbers?

PK Lee: We have increased our passenger numbers by 20% to 25% year-on-year. In spite of two the challenges we had, we are still registering growth.

Travel Today: Has your marketing campaigns promoting sale fares fuelled this? 

PK Lee: This is a market where competition is very intense. Every airline launches tactical campaigns all the time. We try to be relevant and want to be a leader in terms of launching tactical campaigns to encourage consumers to fly with Malaysia Airlines.

Travel Today: Are you losing market to AirAsia X?  

PK Lee: I’m sure we are giving them tough competition. In terms of pricing we are not pricing it with them, but I’m sure we are winning some business as well. We cater for full-service, premiums and corporates. Competition is everywhere.

Travel Today: How's your corporate business?

PK Lee: We’ve increased our corporate accounts actually. The TMCs have done a good job and been very supportive to the extent [they] have got a few more accounts for us. Corporate revenue has increased by 60% year-on-year, showing that confidence is very strong.

Tune in tomorrow for part 2 of this interview  focussing on the trade's impact on the airline's business.

Latest News

  • Hotels

QT Singapore set to open in heritage Eastern Extension Telegraph building

Bookings open today for QT Singapore, in the historic former Eastern Extension Telegraph building along Robinson Road, the first property from QT Hotels & Resorts to open outside Australian and New Zealand. Previously Accor’s So Singapore, then the Hotel Telegraph, QT Singapore will officially launch on September 16 and will feature 134 rooms, ranging in […]

  • Health & Wellness

Sydney is named the world’s top running destination

In the last week, searches for ‘running shorts’ have increased by 82 per cent! Fitness holidays are in high demand with over 200K searches (Google, TikTok and Instagram) but of all the fitness travel trends ‘trail running’ is the peak of popularity with searches up 50 per cent since the start of 2024! So which […]

  • Aviation

Hawaiian Airlines celebrates 20 years of flying to Australia

Hawaiian Airlines marked 20 years of flying to Australia at an appropriately themed cocktail party for 150 guests at Hyde Bar, Pullman Quay Grand Circular Quay, featuring hula dancers, Hawaiian musicians, mai tais, mango martinis and leis. Among the guests were Sydney Airport Station Manager Kathy Mainerd who was also present for the very first […]

  • Aviation

How well did Singapore Airlines handle the aftermath of turbulence terror

It was a routine flight for the passengers and crew of SQ321, taking off from London en route to Singapore. But about 10 hours into the flight, with breakfast service underway, horror-struck, the plane entered an air pocket and dropped a suspected 6000 ft in just three minutes, killing one man and injuring several others. […]

  • Hotels
  • News

Hari Nair On How Expedia Is Tackling Hotel Industry Challenges Head On

Like its counterparts globally, the Australian hotel industry faces many challenges, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rising operating costs, increased competition for talent, and changing traveller expectations have forced hotels to adapt quickly to remain competitive. At the recent EXPLORE conference in Las Vegas, Hari Nair, Global SVP & GM of Lodging […]

  • Attractions
  • Tourism

“I wanna try it!” – Internet goes WILD over the world’s largest plastic slide

If you are of a certain millennial age persuasion you may remember rainbow road on Nintendo’s Mario Kart. Evidently created by someone fresh from an acid trip, rainbow road allowed you to drive your kart merrily over a twisting, luminous, multi-coloured road suspended in space, all whilst listening to mildly aggressive techno music. If your […]

  • Aviation

Board Air Canada in Sydney’s CBD via a sleek Light Rail

Visitors flocking to Vivid Sydney will glide through the CBD in the newest addition to the Air Canada fleet – a sleek Light Rail tram wrapped in the airline’s unique livery. The Air Canada-themed tram is part of a new marketing campaign designed to put Air Canada in lights during the Vivid Sydney festival (25 […]

  • Destinations

Australia’s value to the UK visitor economy now the highest on record

A record number of Australians are visiting Britain and spending more than ever before, according to the latest official statistics highlighted by Britain’s National Tourist Agency, VisitBritain. In 2023, Australia’s value to the visitor economy was the highest on record. Visitors from Australia spent a record-breaking £1.6 billion ($3.07 million) on their trips to the […]

  • Tourism

Sensory Tourism Australia launches new travel experiences for vision-impaired international visitors

Sensory Tourism Australia launched its brand at the Australian Tourism Exchange in Melbourne this week and is set to provide inclusive and accessible products for vision-impaired international visitors. Sensory tourism is an emerging concept that presents destinations differently, with less emphasis on traditional sightseeing – created by the founders of Cocky Guides, an award-winning group […]

  • Destinations

Dubai tourism numbers soar despite Middle East conflict, top boss tells Travel Weekly

An exclusive Q&A with Shahab Shayan, Dubai Tourism Regional Director for Asia-Pacific addressing all the questions you might have. The Middle East is opening its doors to tourism. Qatar airport has been crowned No.1 airport globally and Saudi Arabia seems to be attracting a buzz. Where does Dubai fit into this equation? We are excited […]

  • Cruise
  • News

Carnival Splendor to the rescue of Aussies and Kiwis left stranded in Vanuatu

Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Splendor has come to the aid of a group left stranded in Vanuatu, following the collapse of Air Vanuatu. The group, eight Australians and one New Zealander, were visiting the island of Santo when Air Vanuatu cancelled all flights, leaving them without a way home. Carnival Cruise Line responded by offering […]

  • Hotels
  • News

Minor Hotels’ Anantara group reimagines the brand as its portfolio surpasses 50 properties

Anantara Hotels & Resorts is marking a significant milestone with a reimagined brand identity as recent openings across Europe, Middle East and Asia have propelled the brand portfolio beyond 50 properties. Part of the Minor Hotels group, the Anantara visual refresh takes an elegant, pared-back approach that enables each hotel’s unique character to shine – […]