Malaysia Airlines Wants to Be a Lean Airline?

The Idris Jala way

A colleague of mine in the UK came back from a holiday in Borneo, talking about seeing the CEO of Malaysia Airlines on TV, talking about Toyota. How random is that? I can’t find the video or story on line, but a bit of Googling indicates this might really be the case.

One article reprinted on a message board says:

Mr Idris says he is now modelling MAS on companies like Toyota, which have successfully maintained quality while reducing costs.

Said Mr Idris: “We will not behave like a low-cost carrier. We will always provide superior products and services to customers but we will drive down our cost so that we will be able to offer highly-competitive rates to passengers.”

In this article (“The Idris Jala Way”), Idris and the airline have some pretty Toyota-like things attributed to them:

For one, it returned to the culture of thrift that had characterised the early years of success against the odds. Take flight turnaround times, for instance.
“If we cut that by five minutes, MAS can free one whole 737 for flights,” explains Idris.

They’re also creative in ways of cutting costs… well, and they also used layoffs, unfortunately.

When passengers are a “no show” half an hour before take-off, some aircraft fuel is sucked out to save weight (a lighter plane is cheaper to fly). Full meal trays were replaced with meal boxes, as they were easier to handle, thus saving on time and staff. And there was a (voluntary) Mutual Separation Scheme, which trimmed some 2,600 workers.

If this truly was a survival situation for the airline (as it was for Toyota in the late 1940s), a fair and voluntary layoff plan may have been their only hope… as long as it was a one-time cut.

Are they “Toyota like?” I’d say “no” given the whole context of the article, even with the examples cited. But, if they are truly working on it (and can avoid relying on layoffs), they might be worth looking out for.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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