Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Officer Peter Bellew said in an interview for “Biz Talk”, hosted by Mikhail Raj Abdullah, Deputy Editor-in-Chief for Bernama Economic Service, that the new dedicated carrier for Haj and Umrah flights should begin operating by the end of 2018.
According to MAB CEO, the first plane will be available to take religious pilgrims from Malaysia and other parts of the world to Umrah by December 2018 or January the year after.
We will be able to take the six aircraft and actually customize them with extra areas for prayers, for people to wash, to literally have the space and enjoy the experience of traveling to Saudi Arabia as they go on their pilgrimage.
He said MAB will refurbish six Airbus A380s for the Haj and Umrah flights. These should be refitted mid-2018.
But the cost would also be kept down for people travelling because we will have a large aircraft with good economical number of seats. Currently, we have them just under 500 seats and they can be set up over 600 seats and that’s what we are planning to do in 2018. We will replace the seating and put in a new seat-up, add extra seats. And also for the authorities in Saudi Arabia, it will give a very much better use of the airport landing spots.
So we will be able to manage a lot people to get to and from Malaysia or other parts of the world on the pilgrimage and keep the cost down. MAS would offer pilgrimage flights to passengers from all over the world. It will be handled by Malaysians and operated by Malaysian engineers. We have great initial interest; I think it will be a tremendous use of the aircraft and a great success.
Asked why is there a need for a dedicated Haj/Umrah airline, Bellew said that a lot of pilgrims are travelling on 15-20-year-old aircraft and the Saudi authorities are happy to see MAB coming in with brand new A380s and providing travellers better comfort at a reasonable fare price.