The mysterious disappearance of MH370 on March 8, which was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, has stumped aviation experts and become fodder for conspiracy theorists. Despite a multi-national and multi-million dollar search, no trace of the wreckage has been found.
MAS came under a lot of fire for its handling of the crisis, and its stock value and reputation took a beating. But even as the major shareholder, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, was studying ways to help the airline – the government had indicated that it would not bail MAS out – another tragedy struck.
In the space of 131 days, an ailing MAS had lost two Boeing 777s, and 537 passengers and crew.
Yet, even as naysayers were predicting the end of MAS, there has been a slowly growing groundswell of support for the airline, which has long been a symbol of pride for the country.
Airline with long history
MAS is our airline, our pride and joy, and it had a long history that dates back to 1947, when it was called Malayan Airways. It was renamed Malaysian Airlines after the formation of Malaysia in 1963, and Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) once Singapore left the federation. MSA eventually split into two entities: Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airline System in 1972 (it was later rebranded to Malaysia Airlines). The rural air services in Sabah and Sarawak are operated by MASwings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MAS.
For many years, MAS had an enviable safety record among airlines in the region, and its highly trained personnel are in great demand by other airlines.
Prior to this, MAS had only two fatal accidents in 68 years of operation, namely a hijacking in December 1977 of MAS flight 653 that resulted in 100 deaths, and the crashing of a Fokker 50 on the runway at Tawau airport in September 1995, killing 34 on board. There was also a MASwings incident in Kudat in October 2013 involving a Twin Otter in which two persons died, including the co-pilot. In these tragedies, there was no indication that there was anything wrong with the maintenance of the planes.
Despite winning international recognition for its inflight service, including a five-star rating from Skytrax, the airline has been bleeding money for quite a while and has undergone several restructuring exercises.
That said, the airline evokes so much emotion in Malaysians.
The recent opening ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is a case in point. The Malaysian contingent had the athletes in the front row of the march past wearing MAS cabin crew outfits – a symbol of solidarity with the embattled airline.
MAS has also received thousands of messages of support on social media, on its Twitter feed and Facebook page, and there have also been pages set up by others, such as A Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew, that have garnered hundreds of thousands of likes.
And in another example of the support the airline is getting, there have been few takers for the full refund offered by MAS for any of its flights booked till the end of the year. Even if the government no longer believes in saving MAS, it seems there are plenty of passengers who still care about the airline.
Like the Wau Kuching that has been its logo since 1971 (having undergone several updates in design), MAS deserves to keep flying. We need a national airline that is not just about the profits; it needs to fulfil the needs of its people too. An airline that is just about the bottom line will not care to service the rural populations in Sabah and Sarawak, as it just would not be profitable to run these regional services. Yet, these flights are often the only link to these far flung towns, and serve as a lifeline to them.
Yes, MAS needs to innovate and react faster to market forces. It needs to compete with the budget carriers (maybe giving more muscle to Firefly, perhaps?) while maintaining its full service flights. It needs newer, more fuel efficient airplanes, and it needs to uphold, and improve its cabin crew standards.
It’s a tall order for any airline, much less one that is hobbled as MAS is.
Yet, the company and its staff have gone through so much, and we Malaysians along with them, that it seems a darn shame to turn our backs on them now, when the wind is down. They have to come back fighting and soar once more. And we, as Malaysians, ought to back them.
Views expressed are writer’s own. Commentary written in good faith. MAS’ largest shareholder, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, has since announced plans to de-list it from Bursa Malaysia.