The countdown is on for Air Asia with its first A330-900neo taking flight ahead of its public unveiling at next week’s Paris Air Show. Air Asia has 100 of the A330-900neo’s on order and hopes to have the first operating scheduled services within a month.
Air Asia has long haul aspirations. It previously operated long haul flights into Europe but cancelled them in 2012. Rumours persist that the Air Asia is keen to re-enter the European market and the A330-900neo is the perfect aircraft for it to do so with. The carrier also plans to fly Tokyo – Los Angeles using the aircraft.
The A330-900neo is integral to Air Asia’s growth prospects. Utilising the airline’s affiliate offshoot model, there is plenty of room for expansion and plenty of busy routes that the A330-900neo could service. Airbus and Air Asia have been putting the finishing touches to the aircraft since it left the Airbus paint shop in Toulouse in April.
Why the A330-900neo?
The A330-900neo uses more efficient engines, lighter composite materials, and a refined wing design that Airbus says will make the A330-900neo considerably more efficient than older aircraft models of a similar size.
The A330-900neos are powered by Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines. Given the issues that the Boeing 787 Dreamliners have had with the Trent 1000 engines, Air Asia had raised concerns. However, after talks with Rolls Royce, those concerns apparently have been allayed.
Air Asia isn’t saying where its launch destination will be for its first commercial A330-900neo flight. That hasn’t stopped speculation with several existing medium haul destinations vying for the honours.
Air Asia does say that the first aircraft will be based at its Bangkok hub, Don Mueang International Airport, and will be used by its long haul affiliate Air Asia X. From Bangkok, the airline flies as far afield as India, Bali, Hong Kong and Central China. Busy destinations like Hong Kong are obvious candidates for that first flight.
And a two cabin configuration
Air Asia’s A330-900neo’s will carry 286 passengers in a two class layout. The business class cabin will have 28 seats and the main cabin will have 260 seats.
Air Asia X already operates A330-300s with passengers in a 2-2-2 configuration in business class and a tighter 3-3-3 configuration in economy class. The A330-900neo will carry fewer passengers and have a larger business cabin but the current A330-300 layout gives an indication of what passengers can expect in the cabins.
Air Asia sells its product on price rather than service. Economy isn’t terrible, as you as long as you keep your expectations in check. Seat pitch on the existing A330-300s is 32” and the width is 16.5”. You pay extra for luggage and onboard food and drinks and it’s BYO tablet. But, in comparison with some European low cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet, this writer would fly Air Asia X any day.
Air Asia X’s business class, or what they call Premium Class, offers a flat bed trip for about a third of what you’d pay in business class on a full service airline. As such, it represents excellent value. Granted the configuration is 2-2-2 but it’s still a pretty good deal. Upgrades are often available at the departure airport for about USD$400.
While new aircraft will always bring with them some small, inherent enhancements, we can expect to see the successful Air Asia X A330-300 two cabin class configuration and seats brought across to the new A330-900neo fleet. As the new plane is formally unveiled next week in Paris, we may then see an announcement about the first route the Air Asia X A330-900neo will take flight on.
Here at Simple Flying, we’ll keep you informed.