Friday 6 February marks another proud milestone for us, as the A340-300 aircraft touches down in sunny KL for the first time, after a flight that started from the depths of winter in North America. Our A340-300, or Xcalibur, is a pioneering symbol in many ways.
It is the first A340 to be registered in Malaysia, and my two Chief Pilots, Capt Azhanudin (Operations) and Capt Thevamanohar (Safety), have the honour of being the first two pilots registered for A340 operations for a Malaysian Airline – although they have had extensive experience with this aircraft model with a foreign airline in their previous employment.
Captain ‘Han’ from Xcalibur’s cockpit
Xcalibur will also be deployed for our much awaited London sector – which is also a trailblazing route in the world of low-cost aviation. Its 13-hour flight time will be the longest low-cost service in the world today. Traditionalist aviation sceptics say that the A340 is a costly aircraft with its four engines compared to the A320 or A330 models. However, what’s more important is that it is still more efficient compared to the Boeing 747 aircraft that is usually used for these long distance routes – in terms of fuel efficiency, maintenance cost, as well as the cockpit commonality with the A320 and A330 models, allowing us to have a common pool of pilots that give us scale advantage.
While most of us were taking our warm tropical weather here in Southeast Asia for granted, my team of pilots and engineers had to brave extreme winter temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius over a couple of weeks to inspect this A340 aircraft that had just completed a major maintenance check, ensure that all the regulatory requirements are met (and registering the aircraft as a ‘9M’ Malaysian aircraft), and taking physical delivery of the aircraft with a flight of over 20 hours back to KL (with a stopover in London’s Stansted Airport).
For some members of the team, it was the first time that had encountered such harsh cold temperatures. Some had to borrow thick winter coats and sweaters. Taking technical delivery of aircraft is not an easy feat. It involves intense round-the-clock work to ensure that all the details are attended to, and that we take an aircraft only if it meets a stringent list of safety and technical specifications. Being so far away from their families for several weeks can also add to the challenge for our team. For this, I’m truly proud of and grateful to Capt Han, Theva and Sahari, as well as Anaz and his team of dedicated engineers.
Xcalibur will also see us pioneering a new standard of seat comfort. As you can see, the XL seats are full business class seats that will provide executive-level comfort for prices comparable to economy fares on other legacy carriers, and a fraction of typical business-class fares. Next year, we’re even looking at replacing these seats with full lie-flat bed seats. Even the economy class seats are the most comfortable in AirAsia’s fleet – with legroom, width and recline comparable to any premium airline.
Initially, these seats will not be equipped with in-seat entertainment screens. These will be introduced when we refit the aircraft next year. However, we will be providing portable media players for rent during the long London flights.
Wish us well as we keep pushing the envelope and take low-cost travel to new heights! Look out for Xcalibur on its debut flight on London on 11 March.