Malaysian Airlines has confirmed that its new business plan will involve a revision of its long-haul network.
Some routes will be dropped and many of its long-haul planes (especially its A380s and B777-200ERs) will be leased or put up for sale.
But there continues to be much speculation about what will actually happen and, so far, MAS will not confirm or deny any developments.
MAS now has a new CEO, Christoph Mueller, who until recently was in charge of Aer Lingus.
What we definitely know is that the Frankfurt-Kuala Lumpur route will be dropped at the end of May and indeed the flight inventory (from that time) has already been removed from the MAS website.
We also hear strong rumours that Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur will follow. It’s a logical move because MAS could feed its passengers via London Heathrow using fellow Oneworld member British Airways (BA). Once at Heathrow, Amsterdam-originating passengers would join one of MAS’ twice daily A380 non-stop flights to Kuala Lumpur.
Flights to both Frankfurt and Amsterdam are operated by MAS’ elderly B777-200ERs which do not have modern onboard products. It means they are increasingly uncompetitive compared to the newer aircraft operated by rivals.
But the news which arouses the most interest is what MAS will do with its six-strong fleet of A380s. Will they continue to operate existing services to London and Paris CDG? Will they be sold completely? Or will they be leased out? In which case, might MAS continue to operate a smaller A380 fleet?
One question you might be asking is if the A380s are too large for the routes in question then why cannot MAS substitute a smaller, modern aircraft?
Well I’m sure MAS wishes it could.
The fact is that the only modern plane (capable of flying non-stop from Kuala Lumpur to Europe) operated by MAS is the A380. It is true that MAS also operates a number of modern A330s but the MAS variant do not have the range capability (to fly non-stop to Europe).
So a question mark hangs over the future of the London and Paris routes. Depending on what happens to the A380s one or both routes may either be dropped completely or else they’ll be a reduction in capacity.
Whatever happens more seats will appear on the London route next month when BA launches daily Kuala Lumpur flights. And Air AsiaX is waiting in the wings although, at present, it has no suitable planes which can fly to Europe non-stop.
MAS’ capacity problems are similar to those experienced at Thai Airways. As we have reported in Business Traveller (see news, February 16) Thailand’s national carrier is halving flight frequency to Europe this summer.
But, unlike Thai Airways, MAS is not supported by vast numbers of tourists.
Why do both MAS and Thai find the A380 too big for their needs?
It’s because when both carriers ordered their super jumbos many years ago it was a different world order. At that time the SE Asian carriers’ traffic was far healthier than it is today.
In the intervening period the rising Gulf carriers have captured many if not most of their customers. For example, Abu Dhabi-Bangkok is one of, if not the busiest route, on the entire Etihad network.
Indeed, back in 2009, Wallop Bhukkanasut, the then-chairman of Thai Airways, told the Bangkok Post that he wished his airline had never ordered the A380.