The two immediate past chief executives of Aer Lingus, Christoph Mueller and Dermot Mannion, were both prominent this week at the Capa Australia Pacific aviation summit in Sydney. Both, however, played second fiddle to Tallaght man Alan Joyce, the Qantas chief executive who previously spent eight years at Aer Lingus and was the summit's main attraction.
German-born Mueller, who left Aer Lingus earlier this year to take over at beleaguered Malaysia Airlines, was probably chuffed to read in the summit itinerary he was due to be welcomed by Bernhard Langer. Meeting the greatest German ever to hold a golf club would surely be exciting, even for Mueller. Alas, it was a different Langer – the general manager of the Sheraton hotel hosting the summit, who shares a name with the legendary golfer.
Mueller spoke on a panel discussion about the international market and the challenge of turning around Malaysia Airlines, which he says is “technically bankrupt” and floundering after the loss of two aircraft. One was shot down in Ukraine while the other vanished mysteriously over the Indian Ocean last year.
The German refused to discuss the recent discovery of wreckage on the island of Réunion that is now known to have come from missing flight MH370.
He did, however, complain that “hype” on social media about the fate of the flight, which disappeared with 239 people on board, was damaging ticket sales.
Mueller, meanwhile, is still listed on the An Post website as the company's chairman, even though he resigned in May shortly after taking the Malaysia job. The closing date for applications to replace him was last month, and an announcement is expected soon.
He was joined on the Capa panel discussion by Mannion, who is running Royal Brunei Airlines, another difficult turnaround job. He said at the summit that the revamp of Royal Brunei had been "difficult but necessary" and that he saw potential for expansion in southeast Asia, Australia and China.
Like Mueller, Mannion was brought in to wield the axe, and has hacked back staff numbers by 500 at the state-controlled airline. Mueller is axing 6,000 Malaysia staff. The Aer Lingus gig clearly prepares one for battle.
Jack Russell sound bite
Joyce, meanwhile, was asked after his keynote speech what had been his worst moment running Qantas, where he too has administered the cost-cutting knife. He said it was during a live television interview a few years ago at the height of a bout of industrial relations strife.
The interviewer told him a new survey had shown that 90 per cent of Qantas customers wanted him to resign. Then a bystander who had been observing the outside interview let his two Jack Russell terriers off the lead.
“I hate Jack Russells. Irish wolfhounds? No problem. But I was a paperboy [growing up in Ireland] and Jack Russells were the worst. That was my lowest point.”