October 20, 2017 / 12:35 PM / a year ago

Malaysia Airlines names new CEO after Bellew's abrupt departure

FILE PHOTO: Men watch Malaysia Airlines aircraft at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, in this picture taken March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia Airlines Berhad has appointed Izham Ismail as group chief executive officer designate, replacing Peter Bellew, who quit to join Ryanair (RYA.I) after a little more than a year in the job.

Izham, who has served as chief operating officer since last November, will become the airline’s third CEO in two years. Bellew’s predecessor, Christoph Mueller, also quit before the end of his contract.

Malaysia Airlines was caught by surprise on Tuesday when Dublin-based Ryanair announced Bellew was joining the company. Bellew, an Irishman, later said a sense of responsibility to his native country led to his decision to leave.

Mueller cited personal circumstances for leaving, then later joined Emirates as its chief digital and transformation officer.

Ryanair is trying to recruit and retain pilots after a pilot shortage caused it to cancel more than 20,000 flights over the winter season. The airline said Bellew would be given specific responsibility for managing pilots.

Malaysia’s state investment fund, Khazanah Nasional Berhad KHAZA.UL, launched a five-year recovery plan when it took over struggling Malaysia Airlines in 2014. The fund said on Friday the plan remained on track.

In a statement late Friday, Malaysia Airlines said the appointment was in line with the airline’s succession plan, a part of that recovery project. It said Izham would officially assume his new post on Dec. 1. He has also been appointed executive director of the airline.

Under Bellew’s leadership, Malaysia Airlines has been restructuring its fleet, aiming to achieve profitability in 2018 and to re-list its shares on the stock exchange in 2019.

Reporting by Liz Lee and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Larry King

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