KUALA LUMPUR (Xinhua) – 2014, as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak put it, has been “a tragic year” for Malaysia with the great pain infected by the twin tragedies of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flights MH370 and MH17.
Despite the unprecedented efforts by 26 countries in search of the aircraft, MH370 is still unaccounted for since its mysterious disappearance on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Just four months later, another MAS flight MH17, was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, claiming the lives of all the 298 passengers on board.
With the whereabouts of MH370 remain unknown and the criminals behind the downing of MH17 still at large, the two disasters left Malaysians not only astonished, deeply suspicious and utterly sad, its effect also spilled over into the world’s political, economic and aviation spheres.
The two unexpected disasters saw the world come together in an unprecedented act of global solidarity when 26 countries all over the world involved themselves in the search and rescue operations for the missing MH370 airplane and dealing with the aftermath of the MH17 crash.
As 154 people of the 239 passengers and crew on board MH370 were Chinese, there were concerns that the tragedy might cast a cloud over the friendly relations between China and Malaysia. However, as a judgment by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in an interview with Xinhua went, China-Malaysia ties have not been affected by the incident.
In fact, China and Malaysia have cooperated closely in handling the emergency. Official data showed China deployed 19 ships, eight helicopters and five fixed-wing planes to aid in the search.
The year 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Malaysia. During his visit to China, Prmie Minister Najib expressed his gratitude for China’s help in the MH370 incident and vowed to keep on with search and rescue operations.
As search areas mvoed moved from the Gulf of Thailand to the North Indian Ocean and then to the South Indian Ocean over the past several months, big and small countries have pooled their resources in the mission, which was branded by the Wall Street Journal as one of the largest search efforts in recent years.
Meanwhile, as Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama put it, the MH17 crash also witnessed the cooperation between Malaysia, Russia, the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine and attracted the attention of the United States. Thanks to the unremitting efforts from related parties, most of the passengers’bodies have been recovered from the crash site and the aircraft’s black box recorder has been handed over to the investigation team.
According to the preliminary report delivered by the Dutch Safety Board, MH17 blew up in the air due to structural damage caused by “a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside” and no evidence has indicated that a technical fault or human errors may have led to the crash.
The two MAS disasters dealt a hard blow to the loss-making national carrier, which posted net losses of 576.11 million ringgit (about 181 million U.S. dollars) in the third quarter ended on Sept. 30, 2014, compared to net losses of 375.44 million ringgit (about 115 million dollars) made a year ago.
In the first nine months of 2014, MAS suffered net losses of 1. 324 billion ringgit (409 million dollars), widening from the net losses of 827 million ringgit (265 million dollars) in the same period of 2013.
As an aviation analyst at Maybank has said, no airline has gone through two tragedies of this magnitude in a span of four months in the history of aviation, which inevitably impacted its bookings. Facing the critical situation, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, MAS’largest shareholder, unveiled a 12-point recovery plan for the airline on Aug. 29, including the creation of a new company to take over its operation and the slash of its workforce.
Khazanah said on Dec. 5 that it appointed Christoph R. Mueller, the current CEO of Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus, as CEO- designate of MAS NewCo, effective on Jan. 1, 2015. The airline also entered a new phase after being delisted from Malaysia’s stock exchange on Dec. 15, completing its privatization process. Under the plan, a comprehensive overhaul of the company will enable MAS to achieve sustainable profitability within three years of delisting by the end of 2017.
The tragedies also took a toll on Malaysia’s tourism industry, with the country’s worldwide image tarnished by the incident.
Official figures showed that Malaysia drew 25 million visitors in 2013, which brought in 20 billion dollars in receipts. Among the visitors, nearly 2 million were Chinese, accounting for 7 percent of the total. Malaysia has targeted 28 million visitors in 2014 as the government marked the year as “Visit Malaysia Year” for international promotions.
However, as two-thirds of the passengers on MH370 were Chinese, the arrivals of Chinese tourists to Malaysia dipped 20 percent in April. Worse still, the kidnappings and violent activities on the coast of Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah, committed by bandits from the nearby Philippines, further prompted many Chinese tourists to shun the Southeast Asian country.
Statistics show that 997,370 tourists from Chinese mainland and 168,962 from China’s Taiwan visited the country between January and July this year, representing a 11.8- percent and a 2.9-percent drop, respectively.
Although the incidents have had a bearing on Malaysia’s tourism industry in the short term, a recovery is believed to emerge in the long run because the country’s renowned rainforests and beaches and unique multi-culturalism will help maintain its reputation as one of the world’s most attractive holiday destinations.
The two tragedies of MAS also prompted people to review aviation precautions, though flight is commonly known as the safest way to travel. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai has asked the member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to adopt mandatory procedures and protocols to improve the safety and security standards of the international civil aviation.
Among the recommendations he made to the ICAO Council regarding flight risk issues associated with MH370 and MH17 were implementing real-time aircraft tracking, using longer lasting batteries in the black boxes and mandatory sharing information between ICAO, its member states and the airline industry.
Najib called on countries at the UN meeting to unite behind the new standards on aircraft tracking and overflying conflict zones, hoping they would change the global aviation system for the better.
Some aviation experts also called for increased sharing of information between airlines on the threats to airspace, as well as heightened attention to the threats of surface-to-air missiles.