Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia's planned long-haul sister airline is eyeing a 396-seat configuration for its Airbus A330-300s, with a nine-abreast layout rather than the typical eight.
Tony Fernandes, group chief executive of publicly traded short-haul carrier AirAsia and a major shareholder of the privately held long-haul budget carrier, says the configuration under consideration will make it one of the highest-seat-capacity operators of the A330-300.
According to Airbus, MyTravel is thought to have the highest-density A330-300 configuration at present, with 408 seats in a nine-abreast, three-three-three layout. Airbus markets the A330-300 as having a typical two-class layout that seats 335 passengers.
The former Air Inter is thought to have had the highest-density-configuration ever for A330-300s in the mid 1990s, with 412 seats.
A330s are typically configured in an eight-abreast, two-four-two layout in economy class but Fernandes says AirAsia will be one of the few operators with three-three-three seating in its 'X', or economy, class. MyTravel and Monarch Airlines are others that already have three-three-three A330 layouts.
"We have been working with a seat manufacturer for the best part of a year on the configuration and our nine-abreast will be more comfortable than many others with the eight," says Fernandes.
AirAsia's long-haul sister carrier is due to launch operations late in September or early in October, initially with services to the Gold Coast in Australia and Hangzhou in China.
It will start with a single leased A330-300 from AWAS that was originally operated by Aer Lingus.
Fernandes says this aircraft will seat 315 passengers but the interior will be reconfigured in around seven months when it goes in for a heavy maintenance C-check. He hopes a second aircraft will have been sourced by then, before the first of 15 firm-ordered Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered A330-300s arrives in August 2008.
Those aircraft will be in the high-density configuration seating nearly 400 passengers. Fernandes says the firm configuration has not been decided upon yet but around 396 seats is what is currently being looked at, including 28 in "XL" class, which will be similar to a premium economy class.
The new airline will use the AirAsia name under a licensing arrangement. It will be 60%-owned by Fernandes and several of his business associates, 20%-owned by Virgin Group and 20%-owned by AirAsia.
It plans to serve London in later stages and rights have already been secured for operations to Stansted airport, says Fernandes. Those flights will be operated via the Middle East, such as Bahrain or Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.
Other destinations being looked at include Melbourne Avalon in Australia, additional cities in China and Amritsar in India.