A380 is great for haj and umrah market, says MAS CEO

SEPANG: The super-jumbo Airbus A380 aircraft, which hit turbulence in terms of new orders of late, has a great future in the haj and umrah market, says Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAS) chief.

This is despite news reports that many airlines worldwide are starting to abandon the four-engine aircraft and switch to its sister model — the twin-engine long-range A350 — for long-haul flights.

MAS chief executive officer Peter Bellew said the A380 is a great aircraft to be used to fly Muslim pilgrims from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and former Soviet Republic countries to Jeddah and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s the perfect plane to do that for the next 20 years. The Boeing B747-400, which normally does that (servicing the haj and umrah market), is coming to the end of its life and this means the A380 will be the only logical replacement,” he said in an interview recently.

The A380, which entered into service in 2007, can fit almost 600 seats in a plane. MAS currently has six of this plane model, which is configured to just less than 500 seats. The airline uses its A380 to charter haj and umrah passengers and also to service the Kuala Lumpur-London route.

However, as part of its restructuring exercise, MAS will replace all of its A380 with the smaller A350s for the Kuala Lumpur-London route.

The airline has signed a long-term lease for four A350-900s with options for two more. The planes, which will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, are scheduled for delivery by end of next year.

Bellew said MAS was currently in talks with two airlines in China on the possible sale of the A380s but the planes would not be sold until mid-2018.

He said MAS was prepared to assist any airline taking on the aircraft by wet lease with crew, engineering and logistics support provided or the airline would have to come up with a structure to assist the new owner to manage the airplanes.

“We are talking to Airbus about that. We are talking to Rolls Royce whose engines are on the aircraft as well, and both those companies have significant interest in making sure that these aircraft are kept busy for the next 10 years,” Bellew added.

He said that the successful sale of MAS’s A380s will finally create a secondary market for the plane model as there is no such market currently.

Another potential customer for MAS’s A380s may be Hawaiian Air, as the airline is reportedly considering adding the superjumbo for its routes from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Tokyo and Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, MAS plans to add seats to its A380s to 590 seats per aircraft as part of its low-cost programme to sell the planes.

“We will still retain multiple classes on board. We are just finalising the cost of that and the logistics of how we will get it done. We are in negotiations with Airbus. But I think that is the way to go that we put more seats in it,” Bellew said.

Airbus has been hit with lower demand for its wide-body A380s. In July, the European plane maker said it would cut production of the model to 12 planes a year in 2018 from 27 last year.

Several airlines have decided not to continue operating the aircraft, with Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIA) being the latest to announce two weeks ago that it will not extend the lease of its first A380 that will expire in October next year.

The airline’s spokesperson was quoted in the media as saying that SIA would make the decision on its other four A380s at a later date.

SIA was the launch customer of the double-deck A380 in 2007.

One of the airlines that have been the A380’s biggest supporters is Emirates where it had successfully operated flights using the aircraft out of its home base in Dubai.

An international news agency reported that the A380’s jumbo size has become its disadvantage as more airlines prefer smaller planes such as the A350 or the B787 Dreamliner that can fly non-stop, bypassing large hubs such as Changi Airport or Heathrow Airport.

When asked whether airlines are facing a challenge to fill in the many seats in A380, Bellew said the flights for MAS’s Kuala Lumpur–London routes have been completely full on average. “It’s just a matter of being competitive in the fares. It’s a super aircraft. It’s incredibly comfortable. It’s wonderfully quiet. It’s fun to travel on. I think there is a great future for the aircraft,” he added.

Source : New Straits Times Online

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