AirAsia co-founder offers to buy 49% of Malaysia Airlines

The co-founder and former chairman of AirAsia Group, Datuk Pahamin Ab Rajab, has expressed an interest in helping revive struggling flag carrier Malaysia Airlines (MH, Kuala Lumpur Int'l), business publication The Edge Financial Daily has reported. Pahamin and a group of five businessmen associated with him, acting through the Najah Air Sdn Berhad investment vehicle, asked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to start an exclusive due diligence of Malaysia Airlines. The details of their potential bid were not revealed. While the identities of Pahamin's five associates were not revealed, he did say that one was a Briton with experience in the aviation industry and the other four were Malaysians. For its part, Najah Air is currently undergoing registration and would become the vehicle to lead the acquisition. Currently, Malaysia Airlines is wholly owned by Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional. And despite repeated restructuring efforts, the loss-making airline has yet to turn a profit. In early 2019, Mahathir suggested that the government would be willing to sell the carrier to a willing strategic partner. To that end, The Star newspaper said the Pahamin-led group was considering bidding for a 49% stake in Malaysia Airlines but only if the government granted them full managerial control. Khazanah Nasional would continue to own the majority stake. The plan reportedly foresees maintaining Malaysia Airlines as a full-service carrier while its regional subsidiary Firefly (FY, Penang) would be turned into an ultra-low-cost carrier. Pahamin underlined that his plan did not foresee massive job cuts at the airline. "We will also not ask for financial support from Khazanah or the government. The airline will have the same national branding and will not change name. It will remain as Malaysia Airlines and it will be an international airline," he said. Pahamin worked in the government between 1978 and 2001. He took part in the founding of the then-government-owned AirAsia in the 1990s. He assumed the role of the LCC's non-executive chairman after it was privatised in 2001 before retiring in 2008. He has since denied having any connection to AirAsia and said that if the government approves his plan, the LCC will become his competitor. AirAsia has previously ruled out taking over the struggling Malaysian flag carrier. 


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