Malaysia Airlines is completing a charter business concept to operate its six Airbus A380s in a dedicated subsidiary for religious pilgrimage traffic.
The new charter operations would likely be put into a separate entity and could formally launch before December.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew met with Airbus management this week.
“Airbus can adapt the cabins within four to six weeks to accommodate 700 passengers in an all-economy class seating, including pray areas on board the A380, besides other features,” a spokesperson said in London.
Bellew expects enough demand on the routes for up to 20 A380s to be ousted to carry pilgrims around the world to Mecca.
“So far there is no name for [the subsidiary],” the spokesperson said.
The oneworld member had been trying to sell their A380s, but found a limited market. “Selling these aircraft was not successful and Bellew had to look for other options,” the spokesperson said.
The new subsidiary could likely launch in 2018 when Malaysia Airlines’ first Airbus A350-900 arrives in 4Q 2018, which will replace the A380s.
The carrier’s flagship route is Kuala Lumpur-London Heathrow and the A380 is so far the only aircraft in its fleet that can operate the sector nonstop. According to the carrier, only two A380s currently fly the London route.
“We would also like to cooperate with other operators. The standalone business potentially is open to investment from manufacturers,” the spokesperson added.
Bellew is keen to talk to other A380 operators and partners, such as Rolls-Royce, he said. The business might also further tap aircraft coming off lease, such as from Singapore Airlines.
Malaysia Airlines has one of the world’s largest hangars at its home base at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which can accommodate two A380s completely covered and a third partially covered. The carrier also has licenses to conduct full C checks on the aircraft. Fixed base and full-motion simulators at Kuala Lumpur and a full roster of A380 instructors are available.
The several-weeks-long Hajj and year-round Umrah pilgrimage will keep the A380s busy eight months of the year, “which cover the annual costs of the aircraft,” the spokesperson said.
Outside of the religious charter market, the A380s are available for wet lease when other widebody aircraft undergo maintenance checks that can take three or four months, the spokesperson said.
Saudi Arabia is moving toward banning aircraft that is more than 20 years old from carrying religious pilgrims to Hajj and Umrah services, which creates more opportunity for the newer A380 to be used for such flights. Two million passengers are on the move each year for the Hajj.