'Civil aviation is close to my heart': Abdul Aziz


KUALA TERENGGANU: NOT only he is an expert in the civil aviation industry but he was also a prolific football scorer in his youth.

Little did he dream that the wau (kite) he used to play in his native Kelantan would take flight with the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) as its logo, with him at the helm decades later.

That is Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman, the first managing director of MAS, who will turn 84 on Oct 3.

This pint-sized man used to be his school’s top scorer in football during the Japanese Occupation, and played only in his sarong.

While his schoolmates called him “Aziz Pendek”, the Japanese referred to him as chissai kodomo (small boy), who could sing well the Japanese national anthem, Kimi Ga Yo.

But size did not matter.

Even as a schoolboy, Aziz displayed leadership qualities — he called the shots, was the one with ideas and would organise events.

Later on, he helped draft laws to restore harmony following the racial riots of May 13, 1969, the national airlines’ — Carriage by Air Act and the nation’s civil aviation regulations.

For 20 years, he was instrumental in taking MAS to great heights before retiring in 1991 and leaving the company with a RM5 billion reserve.

Looking back, Aziz, who hails from Kampung Pasir Pekan in Kota Baru, has his father and the Japanese to thank for being where he is today.

“It was my father, a teacher, who ingrained in me a thirst for learning and love for reading.

“As reading materials were scarce then, I read newspapers used for wrapping sundry items. By 6, I was able to recite the Quran in full. Till today, I always have a book in hand.

“The Japanese, who invaded Malaya when I was 8, gave me a taste of their education, which emphasised on discipline and diligence that shaped the best qualities in me,” said Aziz, the eldest of Abdul Rahman Ahmad’s and Zainah Salleh’s four sons and three daughters.

He said this during an interview in conjunction with the launch of his biography, On course from Take-Off to Touch Down, written by Professor Datin Sharifah Mariam Syed Mansor Al-Idrus.

“Civil aviation is close to my heart till this day. I reckon it is a God-given talent. I don’t think there is anyone alive today who specialises in this. You may say that I know it like the palm of my hand,” said Aziz, who is married to teacher Puan Sri Wan Zakiah Ibrahim for 57 years.

The couple have three daughters and a son, six grandchildren and a great-great grandson.

For a man who wrote the civil aviation regulations for the Department of Civil Aviation, which was gazetted in 1996, Aziz has come a long way.

“I was about to retire in 1992 when I was approached by then transport minister Tun Lim Liong Sik to rewrite the 1952 regulations chartered by the British. In 1972, I drafted the Carriage by Air Act, which was gazetted in 1974.

These were done to enable the civil aviation to run professionally and with the times,” he said.

On his biography, Aziz said he was honoured that someone was willing to write it.

“I’m lending my life story for a noble cause. Proceeds from the book sales will be channelled to the Tun Suffian Foundation, for which I am the chairman. I’m active in public service, serving with non-governmental organisations and giving talks on the legal aspects to the younger generation,” said Aziz, who is also the Bukit Damansara Residents Association chairman, and a lawyer with Messrs Nik Saghir and Ismail.

Aziz said he studied for two years at Sekolah Melayu Kampung Pek before passing his Senior Cambridge (Form Five) at Ismail English School in Kota Baru.

“I moved on to Victoria School in Singapore before proceeding to University of Malaya in Singapore to study pharmacy. But, I was not inclined to pharmacy and cut short my studies to return to Kelantan to join the civil service in 1955.  

“Shortly afterwards, I was promoted as Pasir Mas assistant district officer,” Aziz said.

Two years later, he was seconded to the civil service and passed a three-part law examination in one sitting.

“That enabled me to preside over court cases as a magistrate, owing to a shortage at the bench.”

In 1964, he won a federal scholarship to study law at Lincoln’s Inn in London. Three years later, he was admitted to the Bar and joined the judicial and legal service, only to be promoted six months later as Sessions Court president.

In 1969, he was transferred to the Attorney-General’s Chambers as a federal counsel and assistant parliamentary draftsman.

“When ‘May 13’ (racial riots of 1969) broke out with a state of emergency declared, I was transferred to the National Operations Council to address legal aspects and to restore order in a fragile multiracial nation.”

Two years later, when Malaysia-Singapore Airlines split, he was handpicked by then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein to move over to the newly formed MAS, he said.

After 15 years in government service, Aziz got entrenched with MAS since its inception in 1971, first as company secretary and then as legal affairs director.

Finally, he was appointed managing director and chief executive officer to replace retiring general manager Tan Sri Saw Huat Lye.