Malaysia Airlines may have finally found a way to use its huge A380s profitably, with new trips to Saudi Arabia, tapping into demand from Muslim pilgrims.
The airline is attempting a dramatic comeback after back to back tragedies struck a devastating blow to the already struggling carrier in 2014. Images of victims from Flight MH17, which was shot down by a missile over Ukraine, shocked the world just several months after MH370 mysteriously disappeared over the South China Sea.
Plans to refurbish the massive double-decker jets, which were flying way below capacity on routes such as those to London, have been in the works since last year and the new flights have finally begun test runs.
The carrier has been using two of its six A380s to service year-around Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca since November, according to a report this week from Bloomberg, and is gearing up to service the annual Hajj gathering. The trip is one of the world’s biggest travel events.
“We’ve been flying these charters daily to Jeddah or Medina and we fill them up every day,” Izham Ismail, who took over Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) as chief executive officer two months ago, was quoted as saying.
Once in danger of falling out of use, the Southeast Asian carrier’s A380s may now be expanded to seat 700, up from the current 498. Those changes would have to wait until 2020, according to Ismail.
MAB is replacing the A380s with A350 wide-bodies for their scheduled routes to London and Tokyo.