AirAsia today operates an all-Airbus fleet, dominated by the A320. In the past though, it has operated other aircraft types, including the Boeing 737 and 747, and the Airbus A340. The 747s were leased into the fleet for a short time and used for Haj pilgrimage routes. None of the aircraft remain in airline service, but some have gone on to interesting future roles.
AirAsia and Boeing
Looking back at AirAsia, it has not always had the A320 and A330 fleet that it operates today. The most significant difference were the Boeing 737s it operated during its early years. It took its first 737 aircraft in 1997 as it started service, and in total operated 36 aircraft up to 2010. These were all 737-300s.
In these early years, AirAsia could also be seen flying the Boeing 747. To be clear, it never purchased 747 aircraft – these were leased from other companies and used for short periods.
AirAsia’s leased 747s
The first Boeing 747 joined the fleet in December 1999. This was a 747-200 with registration N620FF, leased from Tower Air, It flew with AirAsia until the end of February 2001. It was joined by one further 747-200, also from Tower Air, from March to June 2000, with registration N618FF. This is based on data obtained from AeroTransport Data Bank (). Both aircraft were partially repainted with AirAsia branding. They were operated on Haj pilgrimage flights, from several destinations including the US and Europe.
After these aircraft from Tower Air, AirAsia took four more leased 747-200s between 2001 and 2003, likewise flying mostly on pilgrimage services.
Three of these came from leasing company Air Atlanta Icelandic. These were:
- TF-ATF: Leased from March to April 2001
- TF-ATC: Leased January to March 2003
- TF-ATD: Leased February to April 2002, and from January to June 2003
One further 747-200 came in from leasing company European Aircharter. This was with registration G-BDXJ and flew during the 2003 season in January and February.
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Three aircraft scrapped – but three remain in use
After their short service with AirAsia, all of the 747s returned to leasing companies. They have all seen more use, with three now serving interesting last roles.
Tower Air’s N660FF flew until 2004. This is probably the most interesting of the aircraft, as you can still visit it! It is preserved and is now used as the Jumbo Hostel at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Sweden. This aircraft started life in 1976 with Singapore Airlines and flew with Pan Am from 1984 to 1992.
The second of Tower Air’s aircraft was not so lucky. It went on to operate with United Parcel Services and Kalitta Air, until 2013. It is now reported as in a derelict condition at Oscoda–Wurtsmith Airport in Michigan, US.
Two of Air Atlanta Icelandic’s aircraft have been scrapped after limited extra service. TF-ATC (interesting originally flying with Cathay Pacific from 1980 to 1999 as VR-HIB), was scrapped at Kemble in the UK in 2004. TF-ATF was scrapped in 2003 at Pinal Airpark.
TF-ATD however remains in service. It was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 2005 (and re-registered as N787RR). It serves as a testbed for the Boeing 787s Trent 1000 engines.
European Air Charter’s aircraft, G-BDXJ, has also had an interesting second life. It did not remain in service long. The aircraft served the Haj pilgrimage routes in 2004 with Malaysian Airlines, but then was purchased by Aces High Limited in the UK, and used a prop for film and television work. It remains preserved for this at Dunsfold Aerodrome in the UK.
Most famously, it was converted for use in the James Bond film Casino Royale. It became the new prototype Skyfleet S570 aircraft from the fictional aviation firm Skyfleet Aviation. Structural modifications were made to the 747, including twin inner engines and external fuel tanks in place of the outer two engines.
Not the only quadjet
Looking at AirAsia’s fleet now, it seems incredible it operated the Boeing 747 in the past. This was not the only large widebody operated, however. For a time, AirAsia also operated two Airbus A340 aircraft.
These two aircraft flew under AirAsia X, its long-haul subsidiary. The airline wanted to fly to further destinations in Europe, and needed a longer range than its Airbus A330s offered. The A340-300 was chosen for this. The two A340-300s, registered 9M-XAB and 9M-XAC, joined the fleet in February and June 2009, respectively (according to ch-aviation).
They operated mostly to Europe, with routes to several cities in the UK and Paris. After six years though it dropped these routes, and retired the aircraft. 9M-XAB left the fleet in June 2015 and headed for scrap after no buyer was found. 9M-XAC left in August 2015 and moved to Lufthansa Technik then to lessor TrueAero.
Since these retirements, AirAsia has been an all-Airbus A320 and A330 operator. With the ongoing restructuring and the company of the pandemic, this is unlikely to change any time soon. AirAsia X still has the A330-900 and the A321XLR on order, but the future of these orders depends on restructuring.
Did you ever see or fly on AirAsias Boeing 747s? Can you share any more details about them or where they operated? Feel free to discuss in the comments.