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DECEMBER 2018

Year in Review

Recognition and ruptures at the top

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by CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, TOM BALLANTYNE  

December 1st 2018

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Early in the year, Japan Airlines (JAL) announced a major leadership transition, with chief executive Yoshiharu Ueki (65), the former pilot credited with leading the carrier’s recovery post its humiliating bankruptcy, moved up to chairman of the board. Read More » Former chairman, Masaru Onishi, has retained a board seat. JAL managing executive officer engineering and maintenance, Yuji Akasaka, succeeded Ueki in April.

In Thailand, after a search of more than a year, Thai Airways International made a very unusual decision when it appointed government asset fund managing director, Sumeth Damrongchaitham, as the airline’s president and CEO. He took up the position in August when he succeeded acting president, Usanee Sangsingkeo. Dhanarak Asset Development is 99.99% government owned.

Also in Thailand, Piya Yodmani walked away from his job as CEO of Nok Air after 11 months. Piya had served as deputy CEO at the LCC. His acting successor is Prajev Ongarsittigul, a Nok director and chairman of the executive committee at the airline.

A month later, Indonesia’s Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises, which controls Garuda Indonesia, not only removed the carrier’s president director Nugraha Mansyuri, who had taken charge in April 2016, but demanded six of the airline’s eight directors follow him out the door.

His successor is Askara “Ari” Danadiputra, who had been Garuda’s chief financial officer in 2016, but was more recently president of port operator Pwlindo III, another state-owned enterprise.

There was turbulence in China following the accidental death in Europe of HNA Group co-chairman and co-founder, Wang Jian. Wang died when he fell backwards down a short hill as he was photographing a church in rural France. The group, struggling with billions of dollars of debt after a global investment spree, immediately announced colourful co-founder, Chen Feng, had taken full control of the Mainland aviation to services group and that his son had been promoted to a position of significant influence.

There were changes too at HNA subsidiary, HK Express, early in the year with the departure of expatriate CEO, Andrew Cowen, in what appeared to be a midnight coup. The LCC has significantly reduced its network this year.

Malaysia’s long-haul budget carrier, AirAsia X, appointed Nadda Buranasiri as group CEO with the intention that he fill the seat of co-founders, Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun, with immediate effect. Buranasiri had been CEO at the Thai arm of AirAsia X since 2014.

To outsiders, the decision by 42-year-old Aditya Ghosh to step down as CEO of India’s leading LCC, IndiGo, was a surprise. Whatever his reasons, his timing was good. The carrier continues to have issues with its OEM engine suppliers. The airline is being managed by the very capable co-owner of IndiGo, co-founder and Interglobe billionaire, Rahul Bhatia.

West of the Asia-Pacific, former big spending Etihad Airways is undergoing shrinkage under the leadership of Tony Douglas, the Etihad Group’s CEO. Douglas replaced his senior management team including Etihad Airways CEO, Peter Baumgartner. The former Etihad airline boss is now senior strategic advisor on global partnerships and innovation at the group. All the group’s divisions report directly to Douglas.

Following a family feud and a successful plot to unseat him as chairman of the Taiwanese international carrier, Eva Air commercial airline pilot, Chang Kuo-wei, is starting a new full service carrier, StarLux, in Taiwan. Time will tell if there is wisdom in his decision.

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