Malayan Airways in the 1960's. Photo courtesy of Malaysia Airlines.
Malayan Airways in the 1960’s. Photo courtesy of Malaysia Airlines.

How did it begin?

Our national carrier was first founded in 12 October 1937 as Malayan Airways Limited (MAL) with flights between Penang and Singapore. Within a decade, MAL launched its first commercial flight as the national airline on 2 April 1947.

After 1963, the name was changed to Malaysian Airways Limited (keeping the earlier abbreviation) and not long after, Borneo Airways merged into MAL as well. The company grew exponentially during those years, integrating into their fleet the latest carriers of the time (Comet IV jet aircraft, six F27s, eight DCs and two Pioneers).

A photo of Malaysian Airways circa 1960's. Image sourced from
A photo of Malaysian Airways circa 1960’s. Image sourced from

How did MAL change to MAS?

The separation of Singapore from Malaysia turned MAL into a bi-national airline as of 1966: Malaysia Singapore Airlines (MSA). Six years later, in 1972, it became two separate airlines, Malaysian Airline System and Singapore Airlines respectively. While the airline has been known as Malaysia Airlines since 1987, the official acronym is still MAS.

An advert for MSA. Sourced from

Why did the government need to bail out MAS?

In the late nineties, MAS started to suffer a series of significant losses in revenue due to rising general costs and mismanagement. To save the company from its dire straits, the Malaysian government eventually bought back shares from MAS using RM 1.8 billion in public funds in 2001.

How did MAS fare in the 21st century?

MAS is listed on the stock exchange of Bursa Malaysia. Based on their latest financial report release of 2012, their revenues total up to an average of RM13.7 billion. The report states that it managed to significantly reduce its financial losses from the previous year, down from RM2.52 billion in 2011 to RM430.74 million in 2012. This led the then-Group Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya to hope that the airline would be profitable by 2014.

The tribute image released by MAS one year after MH370 went missing.
The tribute image released by MAS one year after MH370 went missing.

What happened after MH370?

As of December 2013, MAS had a total debt of 11.7 billion ringgit. The rise of low-cost carriers like Air Asia and Lion Air had dented MAS bookings even before the MH370 tragedy on 8 March 2014. MH370 and the tragic crash of MH17 on 17 July 2014 further weakened MAS’s financial prospects, leaving speculation that the airline could go bankrupt.

What next?

MAS will be officially terminated as a company this year, and relaunched as Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) as of 31 August 2015. Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the sole shareholder in MAS, has appointed Christopher Mueller (former CEO of Aer Lingus) to lead the turnaround. Around one third of jobs across MAS (thought to be as many as 8000) will be cut this year, while the rest will be offered re-deployment to MAB as part of Mueller’s tough new business strategy to save the airline.

Lyn Ong

First published April 2014, updated May 2015.

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