AirAsia's planned long-haul operation appears to be back on track thanks to an Airbus A330-300 it has secured on lease and its planned purchase of 10 additional aircraft, with options for five more.

The Kuala Lumpur-based airline has signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for 10 A330-300s plus five options and AirAsia group chief executive Tony Fernandes envisages that the long-haul operation in five years will have 25 A330-300s.

An engine selection has yet to be made for the purchased aircraft, but Fernandes says "we are getting close and by the Paris air show we will have a choice".

He declines to disclose the operation's first destinations, but says it will be focused on serving China, India, South-East Asia, Australia and the Middle East and a small number of points in Europe including the UK.

The operation was to have begun in July, but encountered difficulties securing leased aircraft (Flight International, 9-15 January). The airline's management then said publicly the launch might be delayed to late 2007, but since then an A330-300 has been leased from an undisclosed lessor and launch is planned in September.

Source: Flight International