The Airbus A330 will remain the core workhorse of AirAsia X's fleet, even as the airline gears towards expansion that could see it order more aircraft in the coming years.

The Malaysia-based long-haul low-cost carrier operates a fleet of 13 A330-300s and two A340s, and has a further 19 A330s and 10 A350s on order. While the A350s will be delivered only after 2018, the carrier will have a fleet of 32 A330s by 2017.

AirAsia X will take delivery of seven A330s in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and a further five in 2015, its chief executive Azran Osman-Rani tells Flightglobal Pro in an interview.

Asked whether more orders can be expected from the carrier, he says: "We think the overall market oppurtunity is far bigger than our firm orders."

"The best way of illustrating it is if you look at the industry, we see it reaching a steady state situation where LCCs get about 50-50 market share split with full-service carriers," Azran says. "If you look at our numbers and you look at their (full-service operators) numbers, you realise that even if we fulfil all of our combined explicit orders, we're only going to get about 20% of existing fleet size today, which basically means there is an easy opportunity to double whatever we have committed today."

Should the carrier only focus on adding frequencies on existing routes, starting new services in countries it already flies to, and kicking off its Thai AirAsia X joint venture, the carrier would have "37 planes worth of opportunities".

He adds that the A330 will remain at the core of its fleet because of the economics the aircraft provides, which it believes, based on its internal numbers, "trumps" the Boeing 787 in terms of per seat economics.

"Looking at the current market price of the 787, I think the A330 gives it a run for its money, without the reliability issues," says Azran, adding that the A330 also has a global fleet scale that makes sourcing for parts easier and cheaper.

He adds that Airbus is also hiking the maximum take-off weight of the A330, raising it from 235t to 242t, which will extend the range of the -300 by 500nm (930km).

"This easily gives you two hours of additional range. If you can get that from an A330, you can get to Europe from KL," says Azran.

Meanwhile, the A350s, which will come after 2018, will give the carrier the option of using it to replace or supplement its fleet.

"It all depends on what its actual proven economics and performance are, because today it's theoretical. If it does turn out to be a true technology that replaces the A330, we'll have a head start with 10 orders, and can expand beyond that. If used to supplement, 10 is probably the right number, because we don't see that big a market in the 12h range," says Azran.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news