Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Batik Air Malaysia

Proud of his Malaysian roots, 48-year-old Captain Mushafiz Mustafa Bakri, who hails from Melaka has an illustrious aviation career that includes being a pilot, instructor and examiner. Prior to his appointment as CEO of Batik Air Malaysia on September 23, 2019, he was the Director of Safety, Security and Quality of Thai Lion Air, another airline under the Indonesian- based PT Lion Group. Sharing his incredible journey with the Lion Group, he sums it up as one where he will cherish the memories for years to come.

Having been with the Lion Group for a decade, what are some of the most unforgettable moments in your career?
One poignant moment that stands out the most for me is the opportunity to set up two airlines within a year in 2013. Being part of the team that established Malindo Air, now known as Batik Air Malaysia, and Thai Lion Air was an incredible experience. It was a challenging but rewarding task to start an airline from scratch. Seeing it grow and succeed in a highly competitive industry was truly fulfilling. The journey was full of hard work, long hours, and intense pressure, but it was worth it in the end.

As a team, we navigated through various challenges, which included obtaining the necessary licenses, selecting the right routes, building the airline’s brand and marketing strategies as well as developing the necessary operational processes and procedures. Witnessing the first flight take off and knowing that we had played a significant role in making it happen was unforgettable besides it being a testament to our team’s dedication, hard work, and determination.

What are the benefits of being part of Indonesia’s Lion Group?
Besides Batik Air Malaysia, there are six other airlines within the Group, namely Lion Air, Wings Air, Batik Air (Indonesia), Super Air Jet, Biz Jet, and Thai Lion Air. Being under one parent company has helped us achieve greater financial stability, which in turn has allowed Lion Group to make investments in improving our overall operations.

Other benefits include easier ticket bookings and simplified flight operations such as check-in and baggage handling. Our future plans include implementing the ability for our passengers to earn and redeem miles, enjoy reciprocal frequent flyer benefits between airlines in our group and access to each other airline lounges.

What was the most significant challenge you have encountered thus far?
The Covid-19 crisis in 2020 brought with it an avalanche of hardships, not just affecting human lives but also negatively impacting the aviation industry globally. Commercial air travel came to a standstill disrupting management of air traffic. We have to give employees unpaid leave as well as implement a voluntary separation scheme, retrenchment and reduced pay. Employees whose contracts were expiring were not renewed plus early termination of our aircraft lease agreements. In short, we had to operate with minimum staff strength. The pandemic had totally redefined the aviation sector landscape.

How did Batik Air Malaysia’s rebranding exercise and launch of its B737 MAX 8 in July 2022 impact its growth and revenue?
In a crowded and confusing marketplace, a strong brand gives buyers a reason to notice you and to care. Done in phases, our rebranding was aimed at refreshing and integrating our routes within the Lion Group’s airlines for seamless connectivity. It came with a new logo, livery and visual identity to reflect a modern and streamlined brand identity. Thus, enabling us to attract more customers and increase our market share.

The B737 MAX 8 is a great economical aircraft that offers more capacity, range and fuel efficiency compared to our previous aircraft. The new aircraft helped us to improve our operational efficiency, reduce costs and offer a better customer experience. Contributing positively to an increase in our airline’s growth and revenue, the rebranding exercise and B737 MAX 8 have helped position us for continued growth and success.

Amadeus data for Malaysia’s air travel in 2023 identifies Indonesia as the highest growth origin country followed by Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Vietnam. How do you see this reflected in your airline in terms of passenger flow and route development?
Our flights are always busy on those routes. As a result, they have automatically lifted our growth and capacity from those countries. We are very glad to contribute and play a role in the expansion of the Malaysian aviation market. We had a strong finish in our recovery last year and hope to build the air traffic growth momentum this year with surging travel demands and an almost full reopening of international borders.

What is the airline’s existing reach in terms of routes or destinations from its two hubs in KL International Airport (KLIA) and Subang Airport after the Covid-19 pandemic?
Currently, we fly from KLIA to Lahore, Amritsar, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kochi, Trichy, Kolkata, Kathmandu, Dhaka, Bangkok, Phuket, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Taipei, Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka, Jakarta, Bali, Medan, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Penang, Langkawi, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

From Subang, our ATR 72-600 aircraft fly to Pekanbaru and Batam in Indonesia and other local destinations, namely Johor Bahru, Melaka, Penang, Langkawi, Kota Bharu and Kuala Terengganu.

Has the airline managed to return to its number of weekly flights and capacity pre-pandemic and what is its current fleet size?
We are now around 70% of our pre- pandemic levels. Our fleet comprises nine ATR 72-600, three B737-800 and 16 B737 MAX 8 aircraft.

What are your future plans for the airline?
We are pursuing our international route expansion. So far, we are on track and have successfully launched new destinations – Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido – in Japan besides restarting our flight to Taipei. There will be more routes to Northeast Asia.

Currently, what is the airline’s staff strength? How many staff, including pilots, has it managed to recall and be given training?
We employed 5,000 staff before the pandemic but now have 2,023 employees. Our pilots and cabin crew have been recalled and sent for retraining in phases. We are reaching almost 75% of the pre- pandemic capacity.

You started as a pilot but your diverse experience has led you to be an instructor and examiner as well. What career tips would you give those entering the aviation sector?
Firstly, discipline and dedication to continuous learning and improvement are crucial to success in this field. Aviation is an industry that demands precision, attention to details and a strong work ethic. Secondly, be prepared to face challenges along the way as this industry is highly regulated and constantly evolving. You will need to adapt to changes and be willing to tackle challenges head-on.

Thirdly, be proactive in grabbing opportunities to gain new experiences, build your skills, and expand your network. There are many different career paths in aviation. You never know where a particular opportunity might lead. Fourthly, have a solid plan outlining your goals and steps you need to achieve them whether you are just starting out or looking to advance in your career as it will help you stay focused and motivated. Lastly, have a backup plan or alternative career path. As aviation is a highly competitive industry, it is important to be prepared for the unexpected.

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance to support your professional and personal growth?
Understanding my priorities helps me to ensure that my work is aligned with my values and that my personal life with my family, friends and loved ones is not sacrificed. I practice time management and prioritise my health by eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough rest.

Malaysia’s traditional dish nasi lemak is close to my heart as it always reminds me of home. Apart from playing tennis and badminton, I also enjoy cycling to stay in shape and explore the outdoors.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram