The first AirAsia Airbus A330neo has left the manufacturer’s paint shop in Toulouse, France, as it heads towards entry into service in late June amid rumors the low-cost giant is eying a return to Europe.
The aircraft, the first in budget airline’s fleet, will be based at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok and will be operated by AirAsia’s long-haul affiliate, AirAsia X Thailand.
The airline group announced it was boosting its total A330neo order to 100 in 2018 and signed a memorandum of understanding at the Farnborough Airshow for an additional 34 aircraft.
READ Our ratings for AirAsia X.
All of the aircraft are for the bigger A330-900 model but there were suggestions in February that number could be reduced to around 75 aircraft.
AirAsia had expressed concerns about the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine that is the only option on the 330neo but reportedly felt more comfortable after discussions with the UK engine-maker.
Rolls has had serious reliability problems with the Trent 1000 engines powering the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that have seen aircraft face operational limitations and groundings.
The 330neo’s more efficient engines combine with a newly optimized wing and increased use of lighter composite materials to give what Airbus says is a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared with older generation aircraft of similar size.
The plane’s range capability enables non-stop services to Europe, including Kuala-Lumpur-London.
The airline believes it will be the first airline in Asia to operate the A330neo and the planes will ultimately also fly out of the company’s bases in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Indonesia’s Lion Air has also ordered the A330neo and is poised to take delivery this year of the first two of 10 planes. Lion Air was scheduled to get its first plane next month.
Meanwhile, Air Mauritius this week became the first airline in the southern hemisphere to take delivery of the A330neo and the first carrier in the world to operate a combination of the A330neo and the A350XWB.
The carrier will operate the plane in a two-class configuration with 28 business seats and 260 in economy class.