Malaysia Airlines’ Puzzling Revived 747 Is Back In Service!

As I first wrote about in March, struggling Malaysia Airlines is countering the industry trend by taking a 747 out of retirement and putting it back into service.

Malaysia Airlines used to have a fleet of Boeing 747s, which they retired in 2012. This coincided with the airline taking delivery of their six Airbus A380 aircraft, which they used primarily for their London and Paris routes.

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Malaysia Airlines A380

Following the terrible tragedies of MH370 and MH17, Malaysia Airlines has been forced to restructure and downsize, and as part of that they’ve retired their entire 777 fleet.

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Malaysia Airlines 777

That means the only plane which Malaysia Airlines can still operate to many points in Europe is the A380. As of now, Malaysia Airlines just operates their A380s on their two daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and London Heathrow (I’ve reviewed the route in first class from both London to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to London).

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Malaysia Airlines A380 first class

Apparently some of these A380s will soon be going through maintenance, meaning they’ll have a plane shortage (I don’t actually know how they have a shortage, given that they have six planes to operate two daily routes, but…). The airline has a unique solution — Malaysia Airlines will be taking a single 747 out of storage and using it as an A380 replacement.

As an aviation geek, the coolest part is that Malaysia Airlines is bringing the plane back in a retro livery, which I think looks fantastic.

Malaysia-747
Malaysia Airlines 747 in retro livery

I still can’t wrap my head around what Malaysia Airlines is planning here, though, and how this is efficient. The intent is apparently that they’ll use this as a spare plane. The catch is that they need crews specifically trained on the plane, so having pilots exclusively for a spare plane seems rather expensive. And while a 747 might be the best possible spare for their A380 fleet, it’s not exactly a very useful spare for their 737 or A330 fleet.

A couple of weeks ago Malaysia Airlines published the following press release about this plane:

Malaysia Airlines is pleased to announce the re-commissioning of our B747-400 aircraft inspired by the airline’s original livery. The retro livery, on the super jumbo of its time, reflects the airline’s long and illustrious history as the national carrier.

The newly liveried aircraft, bringing the spirit of Malaysia Airlines’s proud history to local communities, will be flying selected domestic destinations from April.

The original livery features a retro logo, the Kelantan ‘wau bulan’ or moon kite in a red circle represents a controlled flight giving an impression of movement. The ‘wau bulan’, which is Exclusively Malaysian, is also an expression of the many mythologies associated with the country.

Paul Simmons, Chief Commercial Officer of Malaysia Airlines said, “The ‘Queen of the Skies’ will be making its debut with Malaysia Airlines soon to celebrate the airline’s illustrious past as the nation’s flag bearer. The retro livery has proven to be a hit with our guests, and they will be able to spot the 1970 livery, this time on the B747.”

Moving forward, the retro livery aircraft will be used as an operational spare aircraft to be assigned on an ad hoc basis to destinations, as and when required.

Now we finally know the schedule for Malaysia’s 747, as it will operate 2x weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and London, replacing the A380 on those flights. Via airlineroute.net, the 747-400 will be operating 2x weekly between May 16 and June 27, 2016, as follows:

MH4 Kuala Lumpur to London departing 9:50AM arriving 4:35PM
MH1 London to Kuala Lumpur departing 9:45PM arriving 5:50PM (+1 day)

The flight will operate on Mondays and Wednesdays. That means the pilots for the Monday flight will presumably be returning on Wednesday, while the pilots on the Wednesday flight will have a five day layover in London.

As a point of comparison, Malaysia’s 747s feature 12 first class seats, 39 business class seats, and 302 economy class seats. Meanwhile Malaysia’s A380s feature 8 first class seats, 66 business class seats, and 420 economy class seats.

Bottom line

Operationally I find Malaysia Airlines’ move to be bizarre, especially for an airline trying to control costs. You’d think they’d be better off cutting capacity rather than reintroducing a spare aircraft with insanely high costs in terms of crew training, maintenance, etc. That’s especially true since Malaysia Airlines has six A380s, which should be more than enough for them to operate their two daily London flights, even with 1-2 planes undergoing maintenance.

Even though this plane will feature an inferior product (I assume they haven’t updated the interiors, so the cabins will be more than a decade past their prime), I’m still really tempted to get on one of these flights, just for the nostalgia.

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Malaysia Airlines 747 first class

Can anyone make sense of what Malaysia Airlines is doing here? And anyone else oddly desiring to specifically fly this plane?

Comments

  1. Maybe they have contracts with some of those 777 pilots who are qualified on the 747 and thus are just sitting around waiting to be certified on the 380?

    Or it’s one big trick to seduce us fans of the 744 🙂 It’s working

  2. The costs are minimal, because MAS currently operate 2 B744 F’s so a pax version shouldn’t add much cost. They have the pilots and cabin crew to do it.

  3. Flew MH 370 a month before the incident…call me superstitious but not dying to fly Malaysia again!

    Does Malaysia use 747s for cargo? If so, are cargo pilots allowed to double as commercial pilots, hence avoiding some of the added cost you mention?

  4. Don’t they still have a cargo division which flies 747’s?
    If those 747’s are flown by their own pilots and they still perform maintenance on those cargo planes reactivating one passenger version won’t be that hard I guess.

  5. yes it does not really make sense considering the spare a380s would definitely support the ones under maintenance and they are just for kul-lhr route. but i kinda agree with Philip as this might be one of their ways of gaining people’s attention- by bringing back the queen!. im really looking forward to flying in this plane again.

  6. Love love love the retro livery, wish they hadn’t “updated” to the current super-meh design. Also love the 744… as to the logic of the decision, MAS has long been locally called “Mana Ada System” i.e. “Where’s the system”…

  7. There are also A380 flights to Jeddah and Medina. But maybe they are selling their A380. In the news they told, malaysia wanted to sell all A380 and keep the B772, now they sold the B772 and kept the A380. Maybe tomorrow theres another news…

  8. Hang on! I thought Malysian is being run by the best manager in the business??

    If this is true, I’m going to assume they know what they are doing.

  9. I’m not that superstitious, but I have to say that I am have been somewhat avoiding Malaysian and Asiana and if I do end up flying with them, I plan on being nice and buzzed. The reason is obviously not the aircraft, but from talking with several heavy pilots, their thought is that the cockpit culture of the Asian carriers have not caught up with the rest of the world. In both Asia and the Middle East, everything is driven by ego…which doesn’t work well during an emergency in the cockpit.

  10. Yes maybe they have an agreement to sell two of the A380’s and want to bring in the 747-400 to test the waters on if they use it on the route with ease and then finally sell some of the 380s

  11. Not much of a surprise here considering the price of oil has been down which helps with their fuel costs (even older planes like the 747 become cost-effective again!). The same has been happening with British Airways and the 747s they fly. As many of you know, BA has been refurbishing its fleet of 747s.
    Not that anyone cares, but I am not a fan of the old branding. I’ve flown through KLIA enough to see several of them parked on the tarmac gathering dirt and grime (had even thought they were an impounded ghost fleet…boo!). 😉

  12. It’s a Marketing campaign, reminding us how old is the company and therefore we should trust them and forget the recent incidents. It works for me

  13. Hi, Lucky.

    I’m not sure Malaysian operates A380 only to Europe, because I saw one of their big birds in all its majesty parked at the airport of Holy city of Medina in KSA, what seemed to be like a routine stop.

  14. Word on the street is malaysian airlines are selling their entire fleet and dusting off the constellations and dc3.
    Truly

  15. @Adam “Asia” is a huge region with dozens of cultures that are vastly different from one another. I would be hesitant to lump all the countries into one single umbrella.

  16. Hey Lucky!

    Not sure if you knew, but since we’re on the subject of 747’s when I was searching for flights between LHR and Moscow I found out that BA flys a 747 there? Seems a bit strange that they would fly a fully serviced long haul plane (with a first class cabin) on just a three hour flight. Do you how BA even fills those First and Club World Cabins? Just wondered about your thoughts on the subject…!

  17. @Deodorant- I understand the vastness of Asia and the “Middle East” along with the lack of political correctness in “lumping” any country, culture, or ethnicity together. With that said, I have traveled the world and feel confident in saying that certain qualities of both Middle Eastern and Asian culture are pervasive and do not work well in a cock-pit environment.

    In fact, the definition of “culture” is a set of collective beliefs of a particular society. So please, tell me how a geographical area’s culture could not possibly have a bearing on operations within an aircraft. Do you think that they throw out their engrained beliefs in the name of cockpit resource management? Look up the accident report on Asiana flight 214; are you telling me the culture of the pilots had nothing to do with this?

  18. Whatever happens to all this? Did the retro livery 747-400 every fly after those few scheduled London rotations were cancelled?

  19. I hate the fact that they have cancelled the plan and sold the 747 in the last fortnight. Iwas really excited for the queen…she brings out nostalgic memories of aviation in my life :'(

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