Bellew denies interference was the reason for his exit

My return to Ryanair is solely due to patriotism for my motherland and a form of ‘national service’,
says the Irishman

By TMR / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

Outgoing Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) CEO Peter Bellew has denied claims that interference from the carrier’s sole owner, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, was behind his decision to return to Ryanair Holdings plc.

The Irishman said his return to Ryanair was solely due to patriotism for his motherland and a form of “national service” to assist Ireland’s largest company, which is going through a difficult period.

“There have been news reports about Khazanah. Let me be clear. Khazanah is a Malaysian investment company linked to the government.

“They have been incredibly supportive to me, personally and corporately. I tried to be transparent on a daily basis, included them in most significant meetings and dragged their staff to work for us!

“It has worked well. There has been no interference. Although, possibly, I drove Khazanah mad with my constant questions and wishes for consensus,” he said in a personal response to speculation behind his departure to rejoin his former employer.

He thanked Khazanah and its MD Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar for the support rendered to him during his tenure at the helm of MAB.

He also added: “People always ask me how do I cope with government’s interference. There has been none for me. Zero interference.” Some media outlets have speculated that Khazanah’s interferences in the MAB’s management and operations were behind Bellew’s shock exit.

Khazanah in a statement has also denied the speculation linking the strategic investment fund with Bellew’s departure.

The former Ryanair director of flight operations prior to joining MAB said the love for his country was the reason he is heading back to Ireland.

He explained that he received a call from Ryanair one late evening two weeks ago to be the carrier’s COO.

It is Ireland’s greatest company. They need my help and there is a big challenge. It is a form of national service,” he said.

Bellew said he did give the assurance he would remain at MAB when asked on Sept 27 about speculation he would return to Ryanair.

“But a week later, the call came and in life we can really never say never. I am looking forward to being close to my family and friends again 14 hours away in Ireland,” he said.

Despite his return to Europe’s low-cost carrier (LCC), Bellew said Malaysia Airlines is special and many Malaysians hope the national carrier will thrive and be the pride of the nation again.

“Success is just within our grasp. Just another 4%-5% in revenue monthly and it should move to profits,” he said adding that the second-quarter (2Q) revenue has increased 7%.

Bellew who took over the helm at the national carrier more than a year ago, after the abrupt departure of Christoph Mueller, said there are visible improvements at the airline with new wide-body aircraft, lounges, loyalty programme, website and better operations in Kuala Lumpur.

Despite his impending exit, Bellew called on stakeholders to not change the brand after much work at the global level to rebuild the carrier.

“People love what Malaysia Airlines stands for. The brand is now revived from China to the UK and down to Australia. That work must continue and will yield the 5% plus revenue growth,” he said.

Bellew’s departure caught the industry by surprise after Ryanair announced his return to the Dublin-based carrier.

MAB in a statement said the Ryanair’s announcement was “unexpected”.

The company said board will meet and make the appropriate announcement in due course. Operations at the national carrier will continue as normal.

Bellew left the European LCC three years ago. He will return as the carrier’s COO effective Dec 1, 2017.

He left Ryanair to join Malaysia Airlines as part of a special team assembled to undertake a RM6 billion overhauling at the national carrier.

According to Ryanair’s statement, Bellew will take over the airline’s flight operations, ground operations and engineering with specific responsibility for pilot production, training and career development.

The LCC had to cancel hundreds of flights in September following a pilot rostering error.

“Having worked previously in a senior role in our operations team, Bellew has an unrivalled knowledge of our business model and how we maintain control led growth, with industry leading punctuality, for the benefit of our customers and our people,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said in the statement.