AirAsia’s New Airbus A320 in Kota Kinabalu

The big deal about AirAsia’s new Airbus A320 is not that it’s AirAsia’s new Airbus A320, because it’s already their 32nd Airbus A320 in the AirAsia fleet. The big deal is, it’s the first of AirAsia’s new Airbus A320’s that will be based in Kota Kinabalu.

An AirAsia PR photo of the new Airbus A320 similar to the one which arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport

Yesterday I was reporter for a day, or so I like to think. On a whim, and with a little encouragement, I contacted AirAsia’s PR and asked if I could join the introduction to the press that was scheduled for AirAsia’s shiny new, Kota Kinabalu based Airbus A320. As I was previously a travel agent, and before that found myself on all sorts of aircraft more often than I can remember, aircraft are of special interest to me. More so if their bringing people to Sabah, and doubly more so if I will have to fly on them in the near future.

Any publicity is good publicity, right, so I was welcomed without too much fuss. With my best notepad and most nimble pen, I set off to Terminal 2 in time for the reception. Out on the apron we waited for the Airbus to arrive. It was in fact not the first scheduled flight were about to witness, because the first flight departed Kota Kinabalu at 7.20am that morning and, did they figure, it might be too early for most.

AirAsia’s new Airbus A320 arrives at Kota Kinabalu International AirportAs much fireworks as is allowed at the airport - none. So this is, er… waterworks!Passengers surprised by all the hoo-ha.  I wonder if they knew what it was about.  If not, they must feel very very special.

Shortly after the Airbus touched down on it’s flight back from KL, which regrettably I didn’t see (they were early, new brooms do sweep the cleanest), the Airbus taxied down the runway. The red Airbus struck a vivid contrast with the backdrop of green courtesy of the Borneo jungle, when a yellow emergency vehicle raced up and blasted a fountain of water behind the approaching aircraft, just in case it wasn’t eye catching enough – firework substitute for the airport I guess. As the Airbus meandered towards the Low Cost Terminal, a veritable carnival suddenly materialised as pre-arranged performers appeared and rushed into position.

For a moment I forgot who I was and acted like a tourist.The disembarking passengers must have thought there was a celebrity on board, because as they disembarked not only were they greeted by AirAsia’s Head of Communications, Regional Operations Manager and Airports Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu Manager, but they were greeted by the Head of Sabah Tourism, Tengku Adlin himself. Apart from that, a long row of cultural performers were drumming and dancing away, giving them the welcome that every visitor to Sabah should really receive.

The moment the passengers had cleared and the plane was tidied up a bit, the reporters were hustled into the aircraft for the much awaited glimpse of the newest of AirAsia’s fleet.

Airbus in a Nutshell

The very spacious emergency exit seats.  Get those if you have long legs.The first thing which is obvious when you step aboard the Airbus is that it’s brand new – I was half expecting plastic on the headrests. For the first time ever on an AirAsia flight, I found myself not wondering about broken seats and tray tables that don’t latch. From where I entered, near the back of the plane, row upon row of shiny leather seats reached toward the front of the fuselage. I walked up to the Emergency Exit seats, the roomiest seats on any aircraft, and sat down. Pure bliss.

I could freely move my legs and nothing knocked my knees. I instantly knew that, unless I could help it, I would never fly an AirAsia Boeing again. But the first test is always easy, because there’s only 10 exit seats, 5 on each side, which would have this luxurious space. The rest of the cattle will have to be herded elsewhere, and it’s elsewhere where you will feel the crunch, especially, if like me, you’re 6 foot something.

I scooted a few rows closer to the front and sat down. The spaciousness was significantly less than the emergency exit seats, but even so, I still had an inch or two between my knees and the seat in front of me. On the AirAsia Boeings, from my back to knee fits in exactly in the space provided. I quizzed the PR people a little later about seat pitch (what the industry calls the space between seats) and she admitted that the rows in the first half of the plane have seat pitch of 30 inches, whilst the aft half of the plane has a seat pitch of 29 inches. So you know where to sit.

Something quite noticeable, and something Kenny Sia moaned about almost two years ago when AirAsia’s Airbus went to Kuching, was the fact that the seats do not recline. I, unlike Kenny Sia who’s clearly one of those short people who recline to the max moments after takeoff, do not moan about this feature, but applaud it. It means that I do not have to spend two and half hours with people like Kenny Sia in my lap. whilst they are comfortably reclined against my knees, snoring away at the same time I’m developing deep vain thrombosis, because of my restricted movement.

The fact that the seats do not recline also cuts down on maintenance costs, because how often have you seen people haul themselves up from their seats by holding on to seat rest in front of them? Often. And that’s why loads of people on AirAsia’s Boeing automatically recline on take-off – because the seat hydraulics are shot. And those are expensive and time consuming to repair – no reclining, no broken seat backs.

But even though the distance to the seat in-front of you might be the same in parts of the Airbus as they are on the Boeing, you have a little more space from left to right. The new leather seats are wider than those on the Boeing. That’s good news for those of us who are a little wider than most.

Of course, it’s not just about a new plane, it comes with benefits, eventually, for everybody. First of all, the Airbus is more economical to operate. It uses its fuel more efficiently, it requires less maintenance, and the maintenance it does require is easier (ie. no reclining seats). Turnaround is quicker (don’t ask me how), which means the Airbus can spend more time in the air, which, after all, is where it makes money.

AirAsia’s Airbusses also comes in flavours other than red red red.The Visit Malaysia Year Version of AirAsia’s Airbus A320.After all these savings they gain from merely owning an Airbus, it can carry 30 more passengers than the current Boeing can. Now, people have said that this spells a tourist boom for Kota Kinabalu, but I’m not so optimistic. Sure, 30 more people will arrive on a flight, but then 30 more will leave when that flight turns around – so I’ll reserve opinion on that statement for a while longer.

New Places to Fly

Heads of various major players posing in front of the shiny new Airbus A320Discussing the A320’s contribution to Sabah’s tourism at the press conference after the inspectionFrom Kota Kinabalu, AirAsia’s east Malaysian hub, AirAsia currently operates 3 international and 7 domestic routes. By the end of 2008 they plan to operate Airbus, and Airbus only, on all of these. The first Airbus will earn its money on three routes, namely Kota Kinabalu to KL, Kuching and Macau. It will fly on a daily rotation basis, starting with a return to KL in the morning, then a return to Kuching in the afternoon, ending the day with a return to Macau in the evening.

Kota Kinabalu’s 1st Airbus A340 is Airbus Industries’ 3000th off the assembly line. AirAsia has over 200 additional options for more, and plans to have an all-Airbus fleet by mid 2009. The Boeings will be retired, or perhaps they will move down the feeding chain and end up in an undeveloped third world country, like Burundi, where they won’t be serviced and engines will come off in mid air. Oh wait, that’s South Africa.

Anyway, AirAsia is going from strength to strength and I look forward to much bigger planes and much lower airfares. With the advent of the Airbus we’ve already gained an inch of legroom and some new destinations, who knows the future holds.

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