DUBLIN/SINGAPORE: Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew is leaving after just over a year at the airline to return to Ryanair as chief operations officer.
The move means that Malaysia Airlines will have to appoint a third chief executive in three years as it continues to recover from two tragedies in 2014, when flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared and flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Under Bellew’s leadership, the Malaysian national carrier has been restructuring its fleet. In a statement on Tuesday (Oct 17), Malaysian Airlines said it noted the "unexpected announcement" by Ryanair.
The statement highlighted that Bellew "had expressed his commitment to Malaysia Airlines" when he was asked to comment on speculation that he would re-join Ryanair during a press conference on Sep 27.
"He said that he was happy to be in Malaysia and that the turnaround of Malaysia Airlines would be 'the greatest achievement of my life'," Malaysia Airlines said.
The national carrier added that its board of directors will meet and an announcement will be made in due course.
"Our operations and services continue as normal, and our commitment and priority remains with our customers," the airline said.
For Ryanair, Bellew is to return on Dec 1 to tackle the pilot shortages that has resulted in it cancelling more than 20,000 flights over the winter season. Europe's busiest airline is trying to recruit additional pilots and persuade existing pilots to stay with the offer of new, improved conditions.
Bellew was director of flight operations at Ryanair before he left in 2014. He joined Malaysia as chief operations officer in September 2015 and took over as chief executive in July last year.
Ryanair said that Bellew would be given a specific responsibility for managing pilots. His mission will be "to ensure that the pilot rostering failure which Ryanair suffered in early September will never be repeated," the company said in a statement.
Ryanair in all has announced the cancellation of around 20,000 flights after admitting it did not have enough standby pilots to operate a reliable schedule.
Irish stockbroker Goodbody last week said in a note that Bellew was well regarded in the industry and was "thought to have had a good relationship with the pilots when he was there".
In recent weeks pilots at Ryanair, which does not recognise any labour union, have been getting together on social media to lobby for a major overhaul of the company's employment conditions.
Bellew's decision to leave Malaysia Airlines comes just over a year after former chief executive Christoph Mueller left the airline citing personal circumstances a year after being hired on a three-year mission to revive the state-controlled firm.
Mueller later joined Emirates as its chief digital and transformation officer.