Since arriving in Kuala Lumpur on March 13, to assist ABC News in its coverage of this unusual story, I have been repeatedly startled that so many Malaysians personalize this event. I am told that Malaysia is not just an airline, it is part of the national identity.
Malayan Airways Limited in 1937 the air travel business was a stop and go effort here, with wars and occupations interrupting the development of an air transport network in the forties and the exit of Singapore from the Malaysian Federation in the sixties. The airline was called Malaysia Singapore Airlines until the city state of Singapore opted to go it alone, taking its name along with the international routes and creating Singapore Airlines.
The folks who shared this history with me confirmed what I suspected, that the loss of the lucrative long haul routes hobbled Malaysia Airlines, leaving it with the more labor intensive and lower profit domestic and regional destinations. Nevertheless, it grew and grew, this time with economic interruptions. The most current is the real threat posed by the low cost carriers, Malindo, Air Asia and Air Asia X.
This, and the fact that everyone here knows at least someone (and usually many someones) working at Malaysia Airlines accounts for the very public outpouring of sympathy and support for the troubles it now faces.
|At a bar in Bukit Bintang|
This morning, I interviewed Masnoor Ramli Mahmud, a Malaysian painter and photographer who is working on a one-man show from his round the world flight in a Pilatus. (About which, more later). The exhibition was planned long before Flight 370 went missing but there's a image of a plane, a man and a mystery that Masnoor wants to add to the show, though it is still just an idea in his mind.
Masnoor works on the idea for the MH 370 painting
Mostly they want to shake their heads with me, befuddled like the rest of the world. Unlike everyone else, this is not distant curiosity. Malaysians are both on the scene of the drama and participants in it. It it as personal as if it had happened within the family, because it truly has.
|One of many signs of sympathy on the streets in Kuala Lumpur|