Malaise-ia: Malaysia Airlines was supposed to be profitable by now. It’s not.

Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say that says the most.

In its last two performance updates, Malaysia Airlines omitted any references to profitability—this after stating in both May and September last year that it was “on track to be profitable in 2018.”It said nothing of the sort in its next statement in December. And its latest statement earlier this month? Let’s just say it didn’t paint a very bullish picture.

Malaysia Airlines is no longer a publicly-traded airline and hasn’t been since 2014, when it was nationalized to avoid collapse. Earlier that year, the carrier suffered two fatal disasters. First, a B777 mysteriously disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Just four months later, another one of its B777s was shot down while flying over war-torn eastern Ukraine. This probably would have proved a financial death knell even had the airline not been bleeding money before the tragedies. Alas, from 2011 to 2013, it lost more than $900m, the consequence of legacy costs, legacy routes, legacy practices and a fast-growing hometown rival free of legacy burdens. That rival was AirAsia, which started from near-nothing in 2001. Before long, it even had a sister airline—AirAsia X—competing against Malaysia Airlines on longhaul routes. Desperate in 2011, Malaysia’s government orchestrated a merger between Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, only for it to collapse when the flag carrier’s unions objected.

What Malaysia Airlines needed was not a merger but the sort of massive restructuring only possible with bankruptcy powers—powers to break legacy contracts and shed unwanted assets. That’s precisely what it did upon becoming a ward of the state in 2014. In August of that year, the state-owned investment fund that took responsibility approved a five-year, 12-point turnaround plan, targeting “sustained profitability within three years of delisting, by the end of 2017.”

Well it’s now 2018, and by all appearances, Malaysia Airlines is not yet profitable. To be clear, it’s a much healthier airline today than it was. Its initial 12- point plan involved transferring a reduced number of employees, assets and supplier contracts to a new company, allowing for a fresh start. Importantly, the new Malaysia Airlines also scaled down its network, continuing a mass dismantling of longhaul routes that started before the bankruptcy—gone were flights…

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