Upclose with Datuk Chandran Rama Muthy

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Batik Air Malaysia (OD)

Datuk Chandran Rama Muthy returns on February 1, 2024 as OD’s CEO 11 years after assuming this position as its pioneer CEO from 2013 to August 2019 when the airline was incepted then as Malindo Air.

Prior to his current reappointment, the 44-year-old was the Group Strategy Director for four-and-a-half years, overseeing the strategic expansion and development of the airline, which is a member of the Indonesian-based PT Lion Group.

It has been more than 100 days since your reappointment as CEO, please share with us your recent efforts to strengthen OD’s position in the dynamic aviation landscape.

The first 100 days were a period of tremendous focus and strategic realignment for the airline.We are rethinking and recalibrating our major strategies based on three key pillars, namely route network, market presence, and operational excellence.

These pillars are critical to expanding into new areas and solidifying our position in the competitive aviation sector.

We are also deeply committed to sustainability and a greener future. Our meal pre-selection initiative has made loading and menu planning more efficient while significantly cutting down on food waste.

Additionally, our Zero Check-in Baggage policy for Super Saver Economy fares encourages lighter travel, a modest adjustment that has a tremendous impact on our path towards a more sustainable future.

Would you care to elaborate on OD’s strategies based on the three key pillars?

Our route network strategy has been essential in expanding our market reach. To improve connectivity within Malaysia, we have implemented new services in Tawau, Sabah, and Sibu, Sarawak.

The introduction of Airbus A330 aircraft has enabled us to operate long-haul flights, extending our reach to the Middle East (ME), Jeddah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

With more A330s in our fleet, we expect to improve capacity and frequency in key markets, giving our passengers more alternatives and convenience.

Under our market presence strategy, we have launched strong marketing campaigns via strategic partnerships to increase our airline’s market visibility.

By growing our network through interline and codeshare partnerships, we provide our passengers with seamless travel experiences to a broader array of destinations.

These partnerships not only extend OD’s reach but also strengthen our brand visibility and appeal in new and existing markets.

In pursuing our operational excellence strategy, the airline has invested heavily in cutting-edge technologies to improve flight planning, navigation, crewing, catering, and other critical operations. These innovations allow us to operate more effectively, offering better service to our passengers while reducing costs.

What are some of the latest enhancements in terms of service offerings provided by OD to its passengers?

We have always been dedicated to enhancing the passenger experience at every touchpoint. One of our additions is the Wireless InFlight Entertainment system, which we have started on our long-haul routes and will soon expand across our entire fleet.

We have partnered with Kia Malaysia to introduce an exclusive terminal transfer service for our business class passengers.

We will be launching soon the BookCabin mobile app, an all-in-one solution for travel needs from booking tickets to checking-in and beyond.

Apart from that, we are continuously refreshing our onboard menu to ensure a delightful culinary experience for our passengers.

Tracing your 11 years of journey with OD, what are some of the highlights?

We started with two Boeing 737 aircraft at the KL International Airport (KLIA) and two ATR-72s at the Subang Airport. From these humble beginnings, we launched our domestic operations to Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Kota Bharu, and Penang.

Our initial international flight was to Dhaka in Bangladesh. We later expanded to key destinations in India, Australia, and within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Soon after, China and North Asia were included.

Our latest network spans markets across Asia Pacific (APAC), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the ME. The expansion into these markets was made possible with the A330 and B737-8 aircraft, which offer longer-range capabilities.

We are continuing our reach into new markets such as UAE, Japan, South Korea, Uzbekistan and New Zealand as well as stepping up new routes between Malaysia and the mainland points in China.

How big is OD’s present network?

We operate over 800 flights weekly, connecting travellers to 52 destinations across 20 countries. Our extensive network, covering eight domestic and 44 international routes, nurtures tourism and drives economic prosperity. We support the government’s efforts to boost connectivity through KLIA.

In line with this vision, we are working closely with Tourism Malaysia and other organisations to meet the evolving needs of travellers and adapt to the changing market conditions.

At the core of our endeavours lies a profound passion for our mission, which is to elevate KLIA into a world-class transit hub.

What is its current staff strength?

Our staff comprises young, dynamic talents as well as seasoned, experienced professionals. Made up of about 3,000-strong workforce, our younger team members bring fresh perspectives, which are crucial for staying ahead in today’s fast-paced aviation industry.

We also treasure the experience and expertise of our seasoned professionals, who serve as mentors guiding and inspiring our younger colleagues.

Do you face any manpower shortage currently having downsized your workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic was a period of unprecedented challenges for the entire aviation industry, and it was no exception for us. Making the difficult decision to downsize from 5,000 workforce to 1,000 staff was one of the toughest moments in our company’s history.

We initially offered our staff a Voluntary Separation Scheme. Subsequently, we introduced a Long-Term Unpaid Leave programme, allowing them to take up to two years’ leave away from work, with the assurance they would be recalled once business conditions improved.

Our final initiative involved the retrenchment of redundant positions in view of the continued downturn following the international border closures coupled with the imposition of travel and health restrictions.

A limited core team was retained but as soon as business recovery commenced, we recalled our staff and started hiring new ones.

We also understand that some specialised skills are crucial for our operations but are not always available locally.

When needed, we recruited talented individuals from around the world to join our team.

Who are your codeshare partners and how many interline agreements has OD signed to-date to broaden its connectivity?

Presently, our codeshare partners are Emirates, Turkish Airlines, and Batik Air Indonesia, with more collaborations in the pipeline.

We have 14 interline agreements with other airlines spanning across markets from the ME to APAC, which enable our passengers to reach their destinations via connecting flights facilitated by our partners.

What is OD’s fleet size?

As of now, our fleet comprises four A330-300 and 30 B737 aircraft. By the end of 2024, it will grow to six A330-300 and 50 B737 planes.

Moving forward, what are your target markets?

ASEAN, with its vibrant and dynamic landscape, is the primary focus for us as it is set to become the fourth largest market globally after the European Union, the United States, and China.

Home to 700 million people, this region offers immense travel and business opportunities. By 2025, ASEAN’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to reach US$5.2 trillion and double to US$10 trillion by 2030.

The golden opportunities within our home base are key to propelling OD toward its medium-term goals. Furthermore, ASEAN’s proximity to China and India opens up significant tourism potential.

OD currently operates to 11 destinations in the Indian subcontinent, which promises substantial growth in the near future. With high GDP growth in India by 2030, the country is poised to overtake Japan to become the world’s fourth largest economy.

What legacy would you like to leave behind for OD?

I aspire to transform OD into an innovative airline, renowned for its operational efficiency and exceptional onboard service.

My goal is to have a workforce with a high happiness index committed to delivering unique travel experiences.

We will cultivate a reputation as a carrier that adapts to evolving market demands and changing trends in lifestyle and the business environment. We will continue to deliver sustainable practices into our future operations.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I find it essential to unwind and recharge. You can often find me indulging in sports or spending quality time with my family.

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