EXCLUSIVE | Malaysia Airlines plans to bring forward the start of its Airbus A350 flights to London to January 2018, but is putting expansion to other European cities on hold.
The Oneworld member now expects to take delivery of its first two Airbus A350s in November and December 2017, which will provide sufficient aircraft to take over the daily Kuala Lumpur-London Airbus A380 flights MH3/MH4 by mid-January 2018.
Australian Business Traveller understands that two more A350s will arrive by March 2018, at which time the flagship MH1/MH2 flight would also be swapped from the double-decker superjumbo to the fuel-efficient A350.
Malaysia Airlines will then have its Airbus A380s stripped back to an "ultra-high capacity" configuration (read: almost entirely economy class) and handed over to a new offshoot aimed at serving the bustling Muslim market for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
However, Malaysia Airlines is revising earlier plans to use the final two members of its six-strong A350 fleet – now slated for delivery by June 2018 – to re-open flights to Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt, routes which the airline shuttered in 2015-2016.
Airline CEO Peter Bellew previously axed plans to send the A350 to Auckland, and ruled out other destinations such as Australia and Tokyo, saying "it’s an expensive aircraft and we have to find something meaty and significant to do with it. We hope to find something more than nine hours."
It's believed that no European destination other than London would provide the high traffic which Malaysia Airlines requires for its A350s, which will come with ongoing leasing payments rather than being bought outright.
The Airbus A350s will sport a small first class cabin of just four seats using the Vantage XL design (below) from Ireland's Thompson Aero Seating, which also provided the platform for Qantas Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 business class.
Behind this will be 35 business class seats using the same Vantage design as Malaysia Airlines' Airbus A330s.
This will be followed by 249 economy seats, some of which will come with extra legroom. The A350 will also carry high-speed satellite Internet.