Photo: The Malaysian Reserve

KUALA LUMPUR: Captain Azlan Zainal Abidin (pic), an experienced wide-bodied aircraft pilot, is a man in a hurry these days. He can’t wait to do what he does best — to soar into the skies again and fly passengers to their destinations safely. But Azlan is hampered from doing so despite the vast potential of the aviation business.

He is grounded because of some regulatory hurdles following one or two legacy issues. He feels he deserves a second chance just like some businessmen or professionals who had managed to blossom again after having met early setbacks.

“People do make mistakes in one way or the other in life but one should be given a chance to start all over once they have learnt where they had gone wrong,” he says in an interview. He pinpoints his earlier failures, not on his professional capability nor business acumen, but misjudgement on certain business partners and senior management staff whom he had trusted to help run his business on the ground while he was flying planes in the air.

Six years ago, Azlan was flying high when his company was undertaking chartered flights for the haj and umrah pilgrimage to Mecca. His company had ferried almost three million pilgrims from 10 countries in Africa, Indian sub-continent and South East Asia from 2012 to 2016. “It was a lucrative business as we gained the trust of our business partners and authorities in Saudi Arabia. In terms of foreign exchange, we brought in some RM350 million during our entire operations.

“Our company was not competing against Malaysia Airlines but was complementing it as not all the pilgrims who signed up for the haj could travel with the national carrier in one single haj season because of lack of capacity.

We filled in that demand besides taking pilgrims from other countries,” he recalls. The operations of his 100 per cent Bumiputera-owned company started on a wet-lease charter business model. A wet-lease is a leasing arrangement whereby one airline (the lessor) provides an aircraft, complete crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) to another airline. To fly its five widebodied aircraft, the company received the Aircraft Operating Certificate (AOC) and Aircraft Service Permit (ASP).

From the word ‘go’, it was also able to recruit M a l a y s i a n pilots from abroad who w a n t e d t o return home to work as well as retired cabin crew, including single mothers, to be gainfully employed. During its five-year operations, it undertook a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, including helping Malaysians stranded by the conflict in Yemen by providing them accommodation in its base in Jeddah before flying them back home.

“We were doing very well and looking to expand but somehow something happened in late 2016 when my company had its ASP certification withdrawn,” says Azlan, who is nonplussed over a sudden financial requirement from the authorities for the ASP. On Boxing Day of 2016 (Dec 26), its operations were boxed in by the authorities who suddenly demanded that his company must have at least RM30 million in the bank each month. In stating that it was difficult to come up with that kind of money within a short time, Azlan explains that a company operating on a wet-lease depended on monthly payments from the lessee or party that leases the aircraft. – Bernama