Malaysia Airlines Plans July Order For 20 Widebody Aircraft

Malaysia Airlines A330
Credit: Airbus

DOHA, Qatar—Malaysia Airlines is close to announcing a major deal for widebody aircraft to replace its Airbus A330 fleet.

The carrier “is at the tail end of the process” of negotiations with manufacturers, Malaysia Airlines CEO Izham Ismail told Aviation Daily on the sidelines of the IATA annual general meeting. The aircraft choice is likely to be revealed by mid-July, he said.

The widebody campaign began early in the first quarter of this year. Final board approval will be needed, but Malaysia Airlines is already “in deep conversations” with the board regarding the order, Izham said.

Malaysia Airlines’ order is purely aimed at replacing the current fleet of A330s, and not for fleet growth, Izham stressed. The carrier has 21 A330s now, and the order is expected to be for 20 aircraft.

Izham said the airline intends to begin receiving the new widebodies in the second quarter of 2024, with deliveries continuing through 2027-28. One aircraft type will be selected in the order. The carrier already operates six A350s, and these will not be replaced.

The A330 replacement order is “an important strategic decision” that Malaysia Airlines had to make, Izham said. “We have to make a decision or otherwise we will be left behind in our product offering, and it would derail our sustainability goals for 2050.”

Malaysia Airlines also reached a deal earlier in 2022 to advance its narrowbody replacement program. The carrier announced in February that it would receive 25 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from lessor Air Lease Corp., with deliveries to begin in early 2023.

This deal effectively replaced an order Malaysia Airlines had placed with Boeing for 25 737 MAXs, which were expected to be delivered from 2024. Due to agreements reached during the carrier’s restructuring process, it was able to bring the deliveries forward, Izham said.

The first of the MAXs are due in May, with a total of six due to be delivered by the end of 2023, Izham said. The new aircraft will begin replacing the carrier’s current 737-800s as they arrive. This order will not cover the entire fleet of 44 737s, however.

Malaysia Airlines has been transferring some of its 737s to its subsidiary airline Firefly. It has already transferred three, with another one to be added by the end of this year, Izham said. The plan is for Firefly to boost its 737 fleet to eight aircraft in 2023.

The parent carrier still has six parked Airbus A380s on its books, although it announced in 2021 that these will be sold and will not return to service with Malaysia Airlines. The airline is in discussions with some parties regarding the sale of the aircraft, Izham said.

Malaysia Airlines has seen a robust demand rebound this year. It is now operating 50% of its 2019 capacity and aims to reach 70% by the end of this year. The number of passengers flown is 30% ahead of the carrier’s forecast for the first half of 2022, and load factors, forward bookings and yields are also strong, Izham said.

However, significant challenges remain, such as the recent spike in fuel prices. Fuel previously accounted for about 20% of the airline’s costs, but now represents about 45%, Izham said.

Izham said a key focus for the airline industry in the pandemic recovery phase is ensuring that all stakeholders work together to improve the travel experience for customers. The emphasis will be on restoring confidence in customers that they can travel safely and seamlessly, he said.

Adrian Schofield

Adrian is a senior air transport editor for Aviation Week, based in New Zealand. He covers commercial aviation in the Asia-Pacific region.