Malaysia Airlines is looking to launch a Hajj service using its large A380 aircraft. The widely reported plans would involve reconfiguring the current 494-seat layout across three classes on some of its existing super jumbo jets to create an all-economy 700-seat aircraft.
If such plans were to be put in place and prove successful, it could to be a far more cost-effective way to move hundreds of pilgrims at one time in and out of the Kingdom than using smaller planes.
“It is a little bit of a game changer for the Hajj traffic,” said Tobias Rueckerl, owner and CEO of Hajjaircraft.
In 2016, 1.3 million Muslims from outside Saudi Arabia travelled to the Kingdom to complete Hajj, with 94 percent of those arriving in the country by plane, according to government statistics.
“The Hajj requires the efficient movement of large volumes of people. The A380 is perfect for this with its high seat capacity, and hence low-unit seat costs. For an airline like Malaysia Airlines with a large Muslim home market, it can find work for most of the year with Umrah pilgrimages driving travel outside of the annual Hajj period itself,” said aviation consultant John Strickland.
Commercial airlines also lease extra planes to run Hajj-specific services. For example, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) leases Boeing 747 and A330 aircraft to run their Hajj services, said Abdulrahman Altayeb, vice president for corporate communications at Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Arranging Hajj travel can be a pricey business, for a variety of reasons.
“Flights are becoming more and more expensive,” said Rueckerl. Sometimes government agencies can end up paying far more than they need to for aircraft, partly because they leave their Hajj plans to the last minute and are in urgent need of a plane.
The cost of travel could potentially be reduced if Malaysia Airlines deploys the A380 for Hajj. The airline is due to apply for its license this quarter to set up its pilgrimage service as a separate business from the main airline, Bloomberg reported in July, citing the airline’s CEO Peter Bellew.
The service could be operational in a year.
Traveling by the reconfigured A380 could also be a more cost-efficient option for pilgrims. “The per-seat price could be 20-25 percent lower than with a B747. That could make the whole Hajj operation very interesting with this aircraft,” he said. He forecasts that if the Asian airline is successful with its new venture, then other carriers may follow suit.
Already, Emirates has said that it will be operating an A380 service to Madinah to meet the increased demand during Hajj.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk