Christoph Müller German Slated to Lead Etihad

The Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad may be on the verge of appointing Christoph Müller as its chief executive. Formerly CEO of Irish flagship carrier Aer Lingus, he also gave Malaysian Airlines a new lease on life after the twin disasters of 2014.
Mr. Müller spent a year saving Malaysia Airlines from bankruptcy, but stepped down last summer for personal reasons.

Former Malaysia Airlines chief executive Christoph Müller is a possible candidate to succeed James Hogan as Etihad's CEO.

Now, Handelsblatt has learned from Etihad sources that an announcement will be made in the coming days, though a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi-based airline refused to comment on what he called “speculation.”

Mr. Hogan, who reportedly fell out of favor with Etihad’s owners after his investments in European carriers such as Air Berlin and Alitalia proved unprofitable, will step down by June.

Mr. Müller is an industry turnaround expert. Having brought Ireland’s Aer Lingus back from the brink, he breathed life back into Malaysian Airlines after two of its planes crashed within months of each other in 2014.

Mr. Müller has been chief digital officer with the neighboring and arch-rival Persian Gulf carrier Emirates since last September.

Thierry Antinori, another Emirates senior manager, was considered for Etihad's top job. But the Dubai-based carrier was not ready to let go of its chief commercial officer. However, the fact that two Emirates executives were considered for the role suggest that the carriers, both headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, might in the future co-operate more closely amid a slump in global demand.

Etihad's appointment of Mr. Müller could affect the airline's relationship with Germany's flagship carrier Lufthansa. In the industry, Mr. Müller and Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr are not believed to be on friendly terms. However, both airlines plan to expand the partnership they recently initiated.

Mr. Müller's main task will be to implement a new strategy at Etihad. The Abu Dhabi ruling family, which owns the airline, announced a comprehensive strategy review last fall. One possible scenario is that it would divest stakes in European airlines. According to Handelsblatt's sources, the owners are still struggling to agree on the question.

 

Jens Koenen leads Handelsblatt’s coverage of the aviation and space industry. To contact the author: [email protected]