Rasha al-Roumi took on a daunting, if not an impossible, task when she assumed the role of chairwoman and CEO at Kuwait Airways in December 2013.

Until the delivery of an Airbus A330-200 in June this year, the airline had not received a new aircraft – leased or owned – since 1998.

The average age of its existing fleet was approaching 20 years old, easily the oldest of its GCC peers. Its share of the local market was about 14 per cent, with the vast majority of residents preferring competitors. And, with an additional issue of an inflated workforce, by 2013 the government faced a $1.55bn debt, accumulated since 2004.

Privatising the airline was the logical step to streamline the firm’s operations.

Plans to privatise the airline began in 2008, when the first law for the sale of its shares to the public was approved. A second law that superseded the first one was introduced in 2012, and then a third one was further approved in 2014. The latter recommended a 40 per cent public subscription, 35 per cent for the long-term strategic partner, 20 per cent for the government and 5 per cent to employees.

The government, however, made a U-turn on the ownership structure in June this year, asserting it wants to retain 75 per cent of the airline’s shares.

This structure is being reviewed by the parliament. Whether this will be the final structure, and whether this one will finally get implemented is anyone’s guess.

One can only assume that most of the airline’s employees will have watched with envy as other government-owned Gulf airlines flourished over the past decade.

Al-Roumi has initiated a huge restructuring within her first year in office, cutting the airline’s workforce by 1,000 in 2014 with a possibility of a further 500 more jobs going in 2015. An eight-year syndicated loan for the leasing of five Airbus A330-200 aircraft was secured in May 2015.

Regardless of Al-Roumi’s management skills, however, the biggest challenge that has to be overcome in modernising the airline and turning it around to achieve profitability lies with the country’s parliament.

Three laws within six years do not seem to rightfully assert the level of urgency the airline requires to fix itself. Until then, Kuwait Airways will be directly feeding the growth of its regional and international competitors.

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