Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is to reduce its Boeing 737-400 fleet, dispose of all its regional aircraft and cancel its Fokker 50 replacement programme as part of a drastic restructuring of its domestic operation.

Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia is offering to acquire up to eight of MAS’s 39 737-400s and may use ATR 42/72s and Bombardier Dash 8s for the regional services now operated with MAS Fokker 50s.

MAS last week unveiled plans to drop 99 of its 118 domestic routes, close 16 of its 32 domestic stations, cut 6,500 jobs and slash its domestic fleet from 40 to 21 aircraft. AirAsia has agreed to take over most of the routes and stations and jointly operate 19 domestic trunk routes with MAS as part of a government-orchestrated domestic rationalisation plan.

AirAsia says it wants to outsource smaller routes to a regional operator, which may take over MAS’s Fokker 50s and de Havilland Canada Twin Otters. But industry sources say ATR and Bombardier may soon try to convince it to operate most of the regional routes itself using new turboprops.

ATR and Bombardier last year submitted proposals to MAS for new ATR 72s and Dash 8 Q400s, but their campaigns came to a halt with MAS’s decision to cease regional operations. MAS is expected to eventually replace up to 34 of its 737-400s with new 737s or Airbus A320s, but the ailing carrier is unlikely to be in a position to acquire any new aircraft for the next three years.

AirAsia estimates its Malaysian fleet of five A320s and about 20 737-300s will grow by six to eight aircraft to support the new services. The airline will initially acquire 737s to support new growth, but may expand its A320 order beyond the current 60 aircraft, around half of which are earmarked for affiliates in Indonesia and Thailand.

Source: Flight International