Former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohammed took Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAS), and its principal shareholder Khazanah Nasional Bhd to task on the sudden resignation of chief operating officer Christoph Mueller.
Lambasting the recruitment the foreigner, Mahathir said “I do not know why Mueller has resigned.”
While not directly saying the MAB chief has failed at the national airline, he singled out “the government (who) decided to employ this European.”
Mahathir said “of course, he did well in Europe, but Malaysia is not like European countries. We have a lot of other problems here.”
Earlier in the interview, he said when the idea of seeking foreign expertise to turn around the troubled national carrier was first mooted by Khazanah, he spoke against it.”I was against it from the start,” he said.
Mahathir grilled Mueller on the timing of his resignation.
“Mueller has decided to quit at a time when oil prices are low and the chances of profit for the airline are better,” Mahathir said.
Citing ‘changing personal circumstances’, Muller tendered his resignation as CEO of MAS, and will leave his job in September, far ahead of his three-year contract.
“I am proud of what we have achieved as a team in such a short time, unfortunately, personal circumstances will make it difficult for me to complete my full term,” Mueller said in a recent statement.
Aviation experts are not that proud of Mueller’s quitting after only a few months at the helm, though.
They said his sudden resignation will be a burden for the next CEO, who will have to carry his plans forward. MAS is said to be looking for another foreigner to helm the embattled airline.
But if they decide to go without Mueller’s plan, it will be bad for the airline, the analysts said.
Malaysia is currently undergoing a climate where there are a lot of unemployment and various political issues that are affecting the management of MAS in particular.
MAS previously did not put focus on managing costs, but only focused on operations and buying new planes, resulting in high air fares and poor service quality, Mahathir further said.
Mahathir recalled Mueller had previously complained about the quality of the in-flight food.”The quality of food has been deteriorating, however he cannot do anything as MAS has signed a 15 year contract with the in-flight catering services provider,” said the former PM.
Brahim’s Airline Catering Sdn Bhd (BAC), formerly known as LSG SkyChefs-Brahims Sdn Bhd, is the principal inflight service provider, providing inflight meals and services at both the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Penang International Airport.
Brahim owns 70% of shares in BAC and the balance (30%) is owned by MAS.
Touching on further steps MAS can take to bring back profitability, Mahathir said the government needed to pursue the revamp of the carrier, see where it has gone wrong and study what can be costed down. “This would enable MAS to be turned around again, especially with the current low oil prices,” Tun Mahathir said.

Interview conducted by John Gilbert, a contributor