AirAsia X opens up on Hawk-less pair of A330neos, flags #PaxEx changes

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When the first AirAsia X Airbus A330neo was unveiled at the Paris Air Show amid much discussion about Airbus’ ‘sub-economy’ ultra-narrow seating strategy, two surprises awaited on board — or, rather, didn’t await.

At last year’s Farnborough Air Show, AirAsia X Group Chief Executive Officer Kamarudin Meranun (now chairman of AirAsia) confirmed to Runway Girl Network that the airline planned to take Mirus’ Hawk long-range version and Collins’ Minipod for its A330neos. Yet on board the two seating products were neither of those.

It turns out this first aircraft is one of a pair of leased jets from Avalon that Thai AirAsia X is taking earlier than the hundred that will come directly from Airbus. “AirAsia currently has 66 Airbus A330neo aircraft on order. In addition, AirAsia’s fast-growing long-haul affiliate AirAsia X Thailand will take delivery of an additional two leased aircraft in the coming months,” AirAsia X Group CEO Nadda Buranasiri explained to RGN.

AAX’s first A330neo is for the Thailand operation, and is leased from Avalon. Image: John Walton

The airline’s head of group communications later followed up to confirm that those 66 aircraft are firm orders, with the additional 2018 Farnborough Air Show order of “34 currently MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] and under review”.

Mirus confirmed to RGN that the seat on the Avalon aircraft was not the long-range version of the short-range Hawk seat that AirAsia uses on its Airbus A320s, and Buranasiri confirmed that “The two Airbus A330neo aircraft on lease from Avolon have been fitted with the Zodiac UK Aura Lite in Premium Flatbed and Geven Piuma AQ in economy.”

Up front are Safran Aura Lite angled lie-flat seats. Image: John Walton

But Buranasiri also flagged potential evolution in AirAsia X’s passenger experience. “The seating and cabin configuration for AirAsia’s Airbus A330neo aircrafts on order is subject to change. We are currently reviewing cabin space and configuration options on the new Airbus A330neo. This includes options for a new premium and economy class seat.”

The #PaxEx is relatively similar to the previous generation of AAX seating. Image: John Walton

AirAsia X’s Thai operation will put its first A330neo into service at the end of July, with routes expected to include Japan, Korea and Australia, although schedules have not yet been published.

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But starting next year, more A330neos will arrive with AirAsia X, and the company has been expansive with its promises of “new and exciting destinations such as to Eastern Europe and North Asia”, according to Buranasiri.

Within Europe, the airline previously flew to London Gatwick and Stansted as well as Paris Orly with elderly A340-300 aircraft, but with both countries charging relatively high departure tax rates, and costs higher in Western Europe, an Eastern Europe strategy could make good sense for AirAsia. Indeed, a partnership with an airline like Wizz Air to provide feed on the European end of the longhaul flight would make much sense.

“Our current network strategy is focused on medium haul — five to nine hours — meaning nine-abreast is a comfortable option. Nine abreast on the A330neo gives very similar levels of personal comfort for each guest even compared to other aircraft options with full service carriers,” Buranasiri argued, and with AirAsia’s reasonable legroom combined with the decision of many full service airlines to go nine-abreast on their 787s and ten-abreast on their 777s, this is a fair suggestion.

Yes, 9-abreast is narrow, but at under $90 for a six-hour flight, is it a bad deal? Image: John Walton

More crucially, perhaps, “Nine abreast on the A330neo drives the aircraft economics to allow us to maintain the lowest CASK [cost per available seat kilometre] and therefore deliver the lowest fares to our guests. This brings more guests the opportunity to fly and this mission will continue for our long haul market strategy,” Buranasiri said.

Given that the passenger experience will be relatively similar to its existing widebody fleet, the efficiency of the A330neo AirAsia X expects is impressive. “The aircraft will reduce our fuel burn by 11% on every trip, and with extended range help us to open up new and exciting destinations,” compared with the existing A330ceo fleet, Buranasiri said.

AirAsia X has always been very up front about what it offers, and with one-way fares for the 6h20m Bangkok to Tokyo even a few days out at an impressive 79€ (US$89), AirAsia X’s simple way to purchase a second seat for passengers who would want or need to, and the angled lie-flat seats up front at around a 3-4x multiplier of economy, it’s hard to criticize the value for money of its ultra-narrow seats — whoever makes them.

It’s hard to be mad with the amount of legroom even in the basic economy seats. Image: John Walton

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