Malaysia Airlines confirms London launch date for A350 services

14 August, 2017

Malaysia Airlines has updated its flight schedules and confirmed a January 2018 scheduled debut for its new Airbus A350-900 widebodies. As recently suggested by the airline, the type will replace the A380 on its Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow route, initially on its MH004/MH001 rotation from January 15, 2018 and then also on its MH002/MH003 flight from March 5, 2018.

The Asian flag carrier decided in 2015, as part of its restructuring exercise, to replace its A380s with A350s. It agreed in the second half of the same year to lease four A350-900s from Air Lease, and committed to another two aircraft from Air Lease in May 2016. It requires four A350s to replace the Superjumbos on its twice daily London service, but was initially suggesting it would wait until all six had been delivered to introduce the type into the London market from late in the third quarter of 2018.

The confirmed accelerated schedule means the aircraft will not be deployed on medium haul routes to Auckland and points across the Asia Pacific region as had been its original intention and the additional two aircraft will now most likely be used to expand the airline's network.

A CAPA - Centre for Aviation report earlier this year outlined Malaysia Airlines' initial deployment plans for the A350 after speaking to its chief executive officer, Peter Bellew at the IATA AGM in Cancun, Mexico. It also revealed that the Asian airline is also planning to launch a new long haul route in 2018, with the aircraft after determining the aircraft was too expensive to operate on medium haul routes to be profitable due to increasing competition.

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While other A350 operators use the type on medium haul routes, Mr Bellew pointed out that these operators have much bigger fleets. Malaysia Airlines has no intention of expanding its A350 fleet beyond six aircraft, making the aircraft a niche fleet that can only be profitable if the fleet is used entirely for long haul routes, according to Malaysia Airlines calculations.

Mr Bellew said that therefore Malaysia Airlines had no choice but to find a new long haul route. "We are looking at all kinds of (long haul) routes", he said. "We are just discussing with some airports and we are discussing with some other airline partners at the moment," he told CAPA.

Destinations in continental Europe are understood to be under evaluation as the carrier looks to again add to its London link, which has been its only destination in Europe since early 2016, when the flag carrier suspended services to Amsterdam and Paris as part of the last phase of its network restructuring project - a previous phase had seen flights to Frankfurt and Istanbul end in 2015.

The CAPA report also highlighted that Malaysia Airlines is planning to nearly double the size of its passenger widebody fleet over the next few years - from 21 aircraft to 36 aircraft. The lease of approximately 15 additional A330s will enable it to upgauge several routes from the 737-800 as it shrinks its narrowbody fleet.

The substitution of the A380 with the A350 will reduce Malaysia Airlines' capacity on the Kuala Lumpur - London Heathrow market by around -42%, with higher percentage declines in both its first class (-50%) and business class (-53%) cabins. Its A350s are configured in a 286-seat layout (F4C31Y251) versus the 494-seats (F8C66Y420) on the A380.

CHART - Annual two-way non-stop seat capacity between Malaysia and UK (2007 - 2017)

Source: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG