Malaysia Airlines Bhd’s (MAB) chief executive Peter Bellew has revealed more details on the flag carrier’s plan to offer charter flights for Muslims to perform the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with CNN Money, Bellew said six Airbus A380 jetliners will be retired from service and refurbished to include prayer areas and ablution rooms for its passengers.
“I think this will be the greatest turnaround in the history of aviation and maybe even of any business,” Bellew was quoted saying.
Bellew said the jumbo jets will carry 715 passengers, compared to 525 people in the usual three-class configuration or 853 in an all-economy class configuration.
“We are trying to capture 5 to 6 per cent of the global market, which is growing all the time,” said Bellew, a former executive at low-cost Irish carrier Ryanair.
“People save to go to this for up to 30 years, and we’ve got great interest in the product already.”
In Malaysia, most Muslims fund their pilgrimages using deposits in Lembaga Tabung Haji, and adhere to a national quota imposed by the Saudi kingdom. The wait could take decades before they actually perform the pilgrimage.
Last month, Bellew said MAB could form a new airline to serve the Haj and Umrah charter market.
“Interviews for key positions, for this airline, have already been initiated with plans underway with Airbus to increase the seat capacity to 720 seats on aircraft,” he told state news agency Bernama.
The airline said it recorded a stronger performance in the fourth quarter of last year on the back of higher bookings and driven by a greater focus on the premium business traveller as well as all-inclusive economy fares.