DUBLIN—The recent expansion of Malaysia AirlinesAirbus A350 operational commitments means the carrier can not only replace its A380s on London flights, but also can fly the new aircraft on another route.                                                                       

Christoph Mueller, CEO of Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB), said four of the six leased A350s will be used for the carrier’s twice-daily Kuala Lumpur–London flights. The other two aircraft will be used for cover in case of maintenance issues, and to operate an existing Asia-Pacific regional route. Auckland or Tokyo flights are the most likely to be selected Mueller, told Aviation Daily on the sidelines of the IATA annual general meeting here.

An agreement covering the initial four A350s was reached with Air Lease Corp. in 2015, with deliveries due to begin in late 2017. The carrier in May exercised options for two more leased A350s, which are expected to begin arriving in 2018.

The main rationale for ordering A350s was to replace the A380s on London flights, Mueller explained. However, this will not occur immediately. The first few A350s initially will be used on shorter Asian routes, so the carrier can gain more experience with the aircraft’s operation. The airline also does not want a mixed fleet on the London flights, so it will wait until it has four A350s before it allocates them to the route.

MAB will not phaseout A380s one-for-one as the A350s arrive, Mueller said. The airline will need to retain at least four A380s until it has the same number of A350s. However, all of the A380s will leave the fleet by June 2018.

MAB attempted to sell two of its six A380s in 2015, but did not find buyers and so elected to retain the aircraft until the A350s arrive. Mueller said the airline probably will remarket the A380s in about a year. MAB has in-house capability to reconfigure the A380s to meet customer requirements.

The A380s are too large for optimal efficiency on the London route, Mueller noted. However, they are the only aircraft remaining in MAB’s fleet that can operate such a flight.

Mueller believes it is unlikely that any of the A380s will need to be parked before 2018. As well as the London flights, one of the A380s is used almost full-time for charter operations, particularly for Muslims making pilgrimage flights to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The A380 fleet essentially will be cut to five through April 2017, as they will be undergoing heavy maintenance one at a time. The first aircraft completed this process recently. MAB has activated a parked Boeing 747-400 to cover for the A380 fleet while the maintenance program is underway.

In other fleet developments, MAB has completed cabin reconfiguration on four of its 15 A330s. All four were ahead of schedule, and the carrier can probably finish the remainder by October or November, Mueller estimated. The A330s are receiving lie-flat seats in business class.

MAB is due to finish work on a strategic fleet plan within 1–2 months. This will lay out the airline’s fleet strategy for the next 5–6 years. However, Mueller will be leaving the carrier in September. He cited personal reasons when announcing his decision in April.