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Aviation

Published on: Aug. 10, 2023, 4:23 p.m.
Runway to India - Status: Busy
  • India remains one of the key markets for Malaysia Airlines

By Suman Tarafdar

MALAYSIA AIRLINES

Looking to expand India footprint

With several usual summer haunts for well-heeled Indians out of bounds still – whether due to prohibitive air ticket prices or slow visa process, several other destinations have seen a fast uptick in outbound travel out of India. One of which is Malaysia, and the country’s flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines, which is tapping into this demand by refocussing on Indian operations.

India remains one of the key markets for us, especially since we reinstated flights to the country at the end of March 2022 after a two-year closure, says Ahmad Luqman Mohd Azmi, CEO, airlines, Malaysia Aviation group. “We are confident about the Indian market becoming a top international destination and are closely monitoring the market to expand opportunities based on the demands.”

For the Indian market, Malaysia Airlines operates 55 weekly flights from India, with the reinstatement of three new flights from Bengaluru, beginning April. MAS operates flights from six major cities – Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi. “We are looking to increase these frequencies and aim to return to pre-pandemic levels at 60 weekly flights by the end of this year,” says Azmi. He points out that Malaysia Airlines is experiencing a higher-than-anticipated surge in demand in the Indian market, prompting the airline to boost frequencies and switch to larger aircraft for select flights and routes.

“We have been deploying our fleet and network expansion opportunistically during peak periods to service high demand/ capacity sectors and continue to closely monitor the level of capacity coming into the market as all airlines rush to ramp up operations. We firmly believe that the Indian market will emerge as a premier international destination, and we are carefully observing market trends to explore further possibilities based on demand,” says Azmi.

As for further increasing the number of flights, given the high potential, the airline says it is continuously reviewing opportunities in the Indian market and will gradually add new routes, increase frequencies, or upgrade aircraft to meet the increased travel demand. “We are also exploring routes to cities like Tiruchirappalli, Thiruvananthapuram and Pondicherry,” Azmi adds.

The airline, however, has considerable competition from others, mainly LCCs (low-cost carriers) such as IndiGo and AirAsia Berhad, which also offer direct flights from various Indian cities.

  • Azmi: confident about the Indian market

    Azmi: confident about the Indian market

India on the radar

The airline is exploring various partnerships in India. “Our recent partnership with Acumen Overseas for air travel management is another initiative in strengthening our customer base across the Indian network,” points out Azmi. The collaboration will further bolster our presence and enhance services for the Indian market, by leveraging on their experience and capabilities. Our travel trade partners play a very critical role, and we work in close tandem with them by deploying curated campaigns and product offerings to stimulate and cater to the growing demands in local markets. This mainly includes joint consumer promotions with local travel agents to attract the leisure consumers, roadshows with tourism boards, corporate travel programmes through MHBiz Pro and MHBiz Plus, and other fare programmes to aid ‘win-win’ propositions for the airline.”

Malaysia has for a while enjoyed the reputation of being a destination wedding market, and the airline is working with state tourism boards to position Malaysia as a top-of-mind wedding destination. To attract the youth, the airline is also promoting MHexplorer, a student travel and lifestyle programme for students that will facilitate their academic journey away from home and enjoy various discounts including travel fares.

Malaysia Airlines has established strategic partnerships and alliances with various airlines around the world, including Indian carriers. Currently, Malaysia Airlines has an interline partnership with Air India and 

Vistara, which allows passengers to travel on connecting flights operated by both airlines. Malaysia Airlines is also exploring opportunities for code-share partnerships with Indian carriers.

MAG: LONG-TERM FOCUS

As an airline subsidiary under Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), we are focussed on implementing our Long-Term Business Plan 2.0, which charts our course to 2025; to transform MAG from a pure-play aviation business to becoming Asia’s leading travel and aviation services group. MAG carried 9.92 billion passengers for 2021-22, compared to 1.75 billion in the previous year.

The passenger load factor in 2022 improved significantly, reaching 75 per cent, as against 46 per cent in 2021. These figures indicate an enhanced utilisation of the capacity, demonstrating an upward trend in passenger demand and an increased efficiency in flight operations, post pandemic Covid-19. As a member of the one-world alliance, Malaysia Airlines connects to more than 900 destinations in over 170 territories.

  • EgyptAir is eyeing India’s lucrative transit market

EGYPTAIR

Launching new flights to Delhi

EgyptAir, the national carrier of Egypt, commenced flights on the Delhi-Cairo route. It has been flying on the Cairo Mumbai route for years. The Cairo-Delhi route will be served by operating four weekly flights with state-of-the-art A320neo – the airline’s newly acquired aircraft that offers two cabin service with 16 seats in Business Class and 126 seats in Economy Class.

“India is an important nation and market for us,” says Mohamed Moussa, chairman & CEO, EgyptAir. “We are delighted to start flights from Cairo to Delhi. This will further strengthen relations between Egypt and India and stimulate tourism, travel, and business between the two countries”.

The airline, which is a member of Star Alliance, has code-shares in place on its Mumbai route with Air India, also a member of the same alliance. “Our goal is to connect Delhi to our network, beyond Cairo as well to Europe, “North America and Africa,” says Amr Ali, country manager, North and Eastern India, EgyptAir, possibly eyeing India’s lucrative transit market. The airline is offering promotional inaugural fare on the Delhi Cairo route.

Currently, there are no plans to further expand the number of destinations. “The first goal is to have daily flights to Delhi,” says Ali. The Air Services Agreement (ASA) permits 14 flights a week between the two countries. Ali reveals that the Mumbai flights have 65-70 per cent occupancy, on an average. The friendly India-Egypt relationship at the political level has strengthened further in recent years. 

  • Finnair is offering improved services onboard its India routes

FINNAIR 

“The demand from India is exceptional”

Here’s a bit of aviation history you might just have overlooked. Finnair, founded in 1923, is completing 100 years in November this year, making it one of the oldest airlines in operation. “It’s quite an achievement – there aren’t many of us in the market,” says Sakari Romu, GM India, Finnair. “We are proud of our Nordic roots.” 

Finnair’s storied operations are often overshadowed by more widely known European carriers, but pre-Covid, it was the second largest European airline operating in India, after Lufthansa. It operates from Helsinki to Delhi and Mumbai, though the longer route due to closure of the Russian airspace means an addition of about three hours to the routes. “For a long time, Finnair was a Nordic airline serving domestic and some European routes,” observes Romu. “From the 1980s and especially the 1990s, we changed from being just a European carrier to an Asian European carrier. What made the biggest difference was that we were able to optimise the location of Helsinki in an optimal way. Its location helps us serve all our destinations within 24 hours. We can fly to our destinations in a single aircraft.”

Finnair is offering improved services onboard its India routes. The new travel class will cover all Finnair Airbus A350 and A330 and will come with a unique new Business Class, Premium Economy and refreshed Economy Class.

The airline is looking to get back to its pre-Covid levels, though closing of the Russian airspace is affecting the airline even harder than Covid. “We couldn’t have any operations during Covid,” Romu explains. “On Asian routes, we were the second largest airline after Lufthansa. For a country with just five million people and no home market, we were successful and suddenly, you know, one year ago, that was taken away from us”.

“Today, Finnair looks different, even from just one year ago. Of course, under the conditions, we have had to rethink our strategy, our network and almost everything,” points out Romu. “It’s also a financial challenge, and what I have done is to put in more efforts to destinations other than Asia, meaning more destinations, more flying to US, the Middle-East and also building up Asia again. We have reopened many destinations in Asia. In Japan, we used to have five destinations and now we have reopened Tokyo and Osaka.” China used to be a huge destination for the airline, but now plans are still uncertain in Asia’s largest aviation market. Incidentally, Finnair has dealt with its neighbour’s closed airspace earlier. In 1983, Finnair became the first airline to operate a Europe-Japan flight over the North Pole!

  • Romu: Today, Finnair looks different, even from just one year ago

    Romu: Today, Finnair looks different, even from just one year ago

Priority India

Romu points out that, compared to 2019, we are back at about 75 per cent of operation level. “We have also been able to wet lease some of our capacity. Overall, globally, we are at about 85 per cent level. So, we are pretty close already.”

However, there have been changes, even as the airline, like many others, is bringing back its planes from the Covid induced storage. But new realities mean new changes. “As we are now burning more fuel – due to flying longer, the cost structure has changed. This is in addition to higher fuel prices.

He, however, does admit that the yields are much higher than before Covid. The change is remarkable, he adds. “I think that there are two reasons for that – one is that the demand is high. People were asked to stay home for two-three years and they are keen to travel. Another point is that our recovery is on 80 per cent level, which is on the high end. However, we are still lacking the capacity compared to the time before the war. Of course, one reason for that could be the ticket costs, which are higher than they used to be."

Despite higher costs though, the occupancy level for the airline on its India routes is high. “The load factors are higher than they used to be. There are some differences between the two routes. The demand from India is exceptional.” However, there are still no plans to introduce more Indian destinations. 

A big change, Romu notes, is the number of people flying to Finland as their final destination. “We are seeing even from India, the highest growth for Finland as a single destination. Even 10 years ago, we were much more, a non-stop airline to somewhere in Europe. People were travelling from Japan to Paris or Barcelona or wherever. Now, we also are getting recognised as a one-stop flight to the US.

Romu also cites the return of Air India flying directly to Scandinavian destinations such as Copenhagen and Stockholm as a good sign. “It gives us many new opportunities. Finland itself has, for the past year, positioned itself as seeking skilled migrants to live in the country, and is fast getting recognised as a tech hub. No wonder, more and more passengers are choosing Finland as their final destination rather than transiting through. Of course, Finnair is set up to cater to both at their hub airport in Helsinki”.

  • Finnair A350 New Premium Economy Class

What’s new on-board

Covid was an opportunity for a rethink and an upgrade for various airlines, and Finnair too has made significant changes. The launch of the new Premium Economy cabin comes as a part of Finnair’s significant €200 million investment in all long-haul aircraft to enhance the customer experience.

Business Class sees a spacious new Collins Aerospace AirLounge seat, which takes its inspiration from lounge furniture. The seat ambiance is designed to allow customers to make their own ‘nest’. Also new personally-customised and in-seat lighting designed in partnership with Jetlite takes inspiration from Nordic nature, complete with the northern lights as the cabin is dimmed for sleep. There are ample stowage features within the seat – for personal and electronic items, pillows and blankets.

There is now USB A, USB C and PC power charging connectivity and wireless mobile charging options available along with internet connectivity for long-haul flights. The Iittala Kuulas dining collection is designed by Harri Koskinen and inspired by the contemporary home environment. It is also lighter to support aircraft weight and CO2 reduction targets. Then, there are renewed meal and beverage offerings, including an up to six-course meal in modern bistro-style and another lighter meal. The Finnish fashion house, Marimekko has created unique pillows and a duvet, with Maija Isola’s iconic designs in soothing dark colours.

The new Premium Economy seats are also designed for more space and comfort. Along with 50 per cent more space than Economy Class, the seat is optimised for enhanced comfort and ergonomics, featuring memory foam cushions, a deep 8`` recline, waterfall leg rest and six-way headrest. There is dedicated stowage for laptops and small personal items, while a large and sturdy single leaf meal tray is for work and dining, along with individual reading lights. There’s a redesigned in-flight entertainment system with 13`` wide screens to make time onboard fly with blockbuster movies and top TV shows. Marimekko has created unique pillows and woven blankets.

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