KUALA LUMPUR: Merging state carrier Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) with budget airline AirAsia Group Bhd is one of the options to “save” them, Malaysia’s second-most senior minister told Reuters.
The coronavirus pandemic that has killed at least 143,744 people around the world has led to lockdowns, brought air travel to a virtual halt and left airlines battling for survival.
Mohamed Azmin Ali, Malaysia’s minister of international trade and industry, said talks would soon take place on various options to help the country’s airline industry.
He said a possible merger between MAB and AirAsia, a private airline based in Malaysia, was under consideration.
“That discussion took place even last year, even before this pandemic came. But we need to continue the discussion,” he said.
“We need to see how best we can save those airlines, and it’s not going to be a simple answer. Things are bad, the aircraft are not flying. We need to discuss how to address these issues.”
Neither airline responded to a request for comment.
Azmin said that even before the pandemic, it was “no plain sailing” for the airline industry. Since last year, Malaysia has been looking for a strategic partner for MAB.
“We were also looking at some of the proposals coming from international players,” he said. “Now the situation is becoming more complex because of this pandemic. We are looking at all options.”
He did not say from whom the proposals had come for MAB.
MAB has struggled to recover from two tragedies in 2014 — the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 and the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.
Sources have said AirAsia and Japan Airlines had earlier shown interest in buying a stake. Privately held Malaysian group Golden Skies Ventures said this month it had made a $2.5 billion offer to fully take over MAB’s holding company.
AirAsia said last week it had no incoming revenue and 96 percent of its fleet was grounded, having suspended most of its flights since March.
On Friday, the airline said it planned to resume domestic flights starting with Malaysia on April 29, Thailand and the Philippines on May 1, India on May 4 and Indonesia on May 7. Some of those would be subject to governmental approval.