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Tragic Year for Malaysian Airlines but Options Remain

To say that Malaysian Airlines (MAS) has had a terrible year is, well, a huge understatement. The traumatized airline has had to deal with back-to-back disasters that killed 6 pilots, 21 flight attendants, 510 passengers, and the loss of 2 major assets (Boeing 777s).

The affect this has had not only on MAS but on the entire airline industry and on every single flight passenger in the world is devastating, to say the least.

Speaking solely from a passenger’s perspective, as I’m most certainly not trying to degrade or insult anyone else’s reality, but strictly from my own personal experience, my nerves were a bit frayed during the flight I took over the weekend.

As I sat at the very front of one of the region’s low-cost carriers (LCCs) watching the pilots take turns using the bathroom in midflight, the details of MH370 popped into my head while sitting next to my wife and two beautiful young daughters. As you might imagine, I was annoyed and stressed that my mind allowed these thoughts to spark at that instance—but the mind can often be a little harsh and untimely.

This of course led me to wonder about the family members, staff members, and anyone else close to both disasters and how they may be feeling. I’m sure it’s very difficult, and I’ll bet time is a much needed healer for all those involved.

For the company, though, time might not solve these issues as fast as desired or afford them the luxury of “forgive and forget.” As a brand, MAS’ image, just or unjust, is severely tarnished. Although they enjoyed a near perfect safety record for 40+ years, 2014 will be a scar that doesn’t fade away easily.

The only tool afforded to the company is options—rebranding, restructuring, even possibly a merger or takeover are all possible scenarios left on the table for the distressed government-controlled airliner.

Russia Today is reporting that a rebranding is definitely on the table and the most attractive option at this point. The report says, “Rebranding may include a different investment structure, a new name, a restructuring of the airlines’ 20,000 staff, and new flight routes for the 50,000 passengers it serves daily. Since the two tragic crashes, the company has lost 35% of its value, but the airline’s commercial director is convinced it will ‘emerge stronger.’”

Hugh Dunleavy, MAS’ Commercial Director, also told the Telegraph, “Our majority shareholder, the Malaysian government, has already started a process of assessing the future shape of our business and that process will now be speeded up as a result of MH17.”

The Telegraph ends with this quote from Mr. Dunleavy, “(the) airline industry should not be held accountable for factors that are beyond our control.” I’m quite certain there is a lot of blame to go around, the airline industry and MAS definitely included, and unfortunately for passengers like me it’s nearly impossible to vote with my dollars when I rely on the industry so much. That said, I do hope that the industry, regulators, and governments learn from all the mistakes and take appropriate steps to correct them before the next tragedy happens anytime soon.

MH370 was an anomaly, a bizarre circumstance in epic fashion, but MH17 could have been completely avoided, and to pretend otherwise is completely insulting to the industry and its customers—not that Mr. Dunleavy’s quote should be implied in that context, but the news cycle has a way of spinning things and the spin has certainly been in full motion regarding both of these tragedies.

The world has its hotspots, this is an unavoidable reality, but keeping our friends, family, and innocents away from these areas (Ukraine, Israel/Gaza, Syria, etc.) at all costs is a civic duty and a corporate responsibility, let political statements be damned.

Whatever option MAS ends up choosing, let’s hope they find a fresh start and safer path towards success in the very near future.