Malaysian low-fare carrier Malindo Air will become the launch operator for the Boeing 737 Max 8 when it flies the first of its new narrowbodies on a route between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in early May, the airline announced Tuesday during the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) Exhibition. The airline, whose minority shareholder, Indonesia’s Lion Air, served as the launch customer for the 737-900ER in 2012, plans next to fly one of four Max 8s due for delivery this year to Bangkok and Guangzhou, China. Lion Air plans to take another four Max 8s next year.
Malindo Air edges ahead of the assumed launch airline, Southwest Airlines of the U.S., which will not commence service of the type until October.
“This new aircraft, which allows us to go to further destinations at a distance of seven hours and thirty minutes, will certainly help attract tourists to our country,” said Malindo Air CEO Chandran Rama Muthy.
Dinesh Keskar, Boeing senior vice president, sales, Asia Pacific and India, told AIN that with a forecast 3,860 aircraft to be delivered to Southeast Asia over the next 20 years, the region would continue to grow at around 6 percent with the increasing affluence of the middle class.
“There will be even be more demand if someone can come up with better on-time performance, good service and same or lower prices,” he said. ”That is the winning formula for Southeast Asia.”
However, Keskar noted the unpredictable nature of fuel prices and the pressure recently felt by numerous regional currencies against the U.S. dollar, with which airlines purchase aircraft and spares while collecting ticket revenues in local currency. Meanwhile, the often close proximity of many population centers in Southeast Asia means consumers might seeks alternatives in the event of rising air fares.
With hundreds of aircraft on order by the region’s carriers, Keskar stressed the need for airports to create capacity and enhance air traffic management to allow more landings per hour. He noted that many small airports already have begun extending operating hours and that airlines now use as many as 20 hours a day—not only to lessen the pressure on infrastructure but to increase yields.