Taipei-based Starlux Airlines is expecting its first Airbus A330-900neo early in 2022, paving the way for the airline’s expansion around Asia. The twin-aisle plane will bridge the gap between the airline’s existing fleet Airbus A321neos and yet-to-arrive Airbus A350s.
High expectations for Starlux’s first A330neo
First reported by Executive Traveller, Starlux is anticipating its first A330neo in February and is eyeing initially operating it on Taipei – Singapore flights. The Airbus will come in a two-class configuration with Recaro’s CL 3710 seats in the main cabin and yet-to-be-disclosed seats in the business cabin.
However, given Starlux’s spectacular business cabin on its existing fleet of narrowbody Airbus planes, expectations are high for the A330neo business class product. Starlux only ordered the Airbus A330neo aircraft 12 months ago. The leased jets are coming from US-based Air Lease Corporation (ALC).
A bumpy ride for Starlux
It has been a bumpy ride for the airline that launched less than two years ago. Starlux launched just as international travel was about to fall off the cliff. The airline operated its first passenger flights in January 2020. Two months later, Starlus was forced to suspend all flights.
It was three months before flights took off again. Fifteen months down the track, Starlux is flying to multiple destinations around Asia. However, frequencies are slight, often only once a week. Singapore, the proposed first A330neo destination, is only seeing one Starlux flight a week right now.
Starlux’s most visited destination is Macao. The airline currently operates five return passenger flights a week to Macao plus a further two freight-only flights.
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Flying within Asia continues to lag other region’s recovery
Starlux will be betting on business improving by the time the first A330neo touches down in February. With proposed North American flights on pause, Starlux is sticking to flying around Asia. But intra-Asia flying is continuing to experience weak passenger volumes.
In July, 1.5 million passengers took an international flight within Asia. In contrast, 33 million passengers took an international flight within Asia in July 2019. According to the regional airline group, the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA), Asia is lagging behind other regions in terms of international air travel recovery.
“While other regions are easing restrictions on the back of successful vaccination roll-outs, borders in Asia still remain largely closed due to low vaccination levels,” said AAPA earlier this month.
Just over 7.3% of Taiwan’s population is fully vaccinated, and Taiwan’s border remains closed to most non-nationals. The country has also experienced a rolling series of soft lockdowns. For Starlux to fill its first Airbus A330neo (and its subsequent delivered aircraft), it will need movement restrictions in Taiwan and elsewhere around Asia to lift.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of industry pundits suggest Asia will be among the last parts of the world to lift border controls and travel restrictions. That indicates Starlux’s bumpy ride may continue for some time yet.
Meanwhile, Starlux also flagged to Executive Traveller the likelihood of its joining an alliance when more established. Given local rival Eva Air is a member of the Star Alliance, and China Airlines is firmly ensconced in the SkyTeam family, there are no prizes for which alliance Starlux might first flirt with.
But with oneworld members Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific also based in the North Asia neighborhood, is there room in the oneworld alliance for a third airline from the region?