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Ex-AirAsia chairman eyes Malaysia Airlines turnaround

A group of five businessmen led by a former AirAsia Group chairman Pahamin Abdul Rajab is said to have met up with Malaysia's prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on 3 July to propose a turnaround plan for Malaysia Airlines through its vehicle Najah Air.

Malaysian media reports indicate that the group sought Mohamad's approval to conduct a due diligence on the carrier before being able to present a full turnaround proposal. The process could take between six to nine months, reports The Edge Malaysia.

Najah Air's plan is for Malaysia Airlines to remain as a premium full service carrier, while turning turboprop operator Firefly into an "ultra low-cost carrier focusing on millennials."

In a separate interview with The Star, Abdul Rajab says the group is looking to acquire a 49% stake in the carrier from Malaysia Airlines parent, sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional. He did not specify if it was Malaysia Airlines alone or its parent Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG).

He went on to give the prime minister reassurance that it will not conduct any job cuts, or seek financial support from Khazanah. In return, the group sought management control of the company and zero government interference.

Najah Air, he adds, is in the process of being registered. Out of the five people involved, one partner is from the United Kingdom and has experience in the aviation industry.

Abdul Rajab, who was the first AirAsia chairman after Tony Fernandes and his partners Kamarudin Meranun and Aziz Bakar bought the airline from Malaysian conglomerate DRB-HICOM in December 2001, stressed that the low-cost carrier group does not have any involvement in Najah Air.

"We have not been talking to Fernandes. He is not involved in our proposal. He will be my competitor if we get to turn around Malaysia Airlines," says Abdul Rajab in The Star interview.

Reports also indicate that several other proposals to turnaround Malaysia Airlines are on the table, including one proposed by the carrier itself as a follow-on to its previous five-year recovery plan.

Malaysia Airlines told FlightGlobal in June that MAG had submitted its own turnaround plan to Khazanah in February, covering both the airline and the non-airline operations. A decision by Khazanah is to be made in the third quarter.

Khazanah did not respond to FlightGlobal's request for comment on Abdul Rajab's meeting with the Malaysian prime minister, who is also chairman of the fund.

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