One can’t be faulted for feeling a little anxious at the prospect of flying in a brand new airplane that does not have all the necessary “certification” just yet.
But just minutes before take-off, we discovered that there were more than five pilots on the same flight, and all that anxiety went away.
The plane in question is the A330neo by Airbus, which flew us – a handful of journalists and public relations folk, pilots from different airlines and Airbus crew and personnel – to Jakarta, Indonesia on its route proving flight recently.
The flight was operated by Airbus’ flight test pilots.
Route proving exercises are done by manufacturers as well as airlines to ensure aviation authority that the new aircraft is fit to fly commercially and is ready for regular airline operations. In the case of the A330neo, the aircraft needs to complete 150 hours of flight tests around the world, flying in and out of 16 cities, in order to secure a type certification by the third quarter of 2018.
Out of the 150 hours, 55 hours need to be completed in Asia.
Airbus selected Kuala Lumpur as the hub for this route proving exercise flying not just to Jakarta, but to Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong and Manila (the Philippines), too. For Malaysia, the plane checked for compatibility at KLIA1 and KLIA2.
The aircraft then flew to Mauritius, and returned to Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, ending its route proving journey. All in all, the A330neo travelled for 18 days around the world, starting from June 18.
The aircraft was painted in the colours of TAP Air Portugal, launch operator for A330neo. The cabin was fitted based on the airline’s specifications: 34 seats in Business Class, 96 seats in Economy Plus and 168 seats in Economy. During the test flight, we were allowed to try out almost anything we could, including putting the Business Class seat in its “sleeping” position and using the toilet that featured some snazzy mood lighting.
We were also lucky enough to be given the chance to check out the cockpit, as well as the crew’s “secret” rest area below deck. Yes, there’s a compartment under the passenger deck with sleeping berths for flight attendants and pilots.
This compartment, we were told, can actually be taken out if the plane is not scheduled for a long-haul flight or if the carrier needs more cargo space. It can be placed back into the plane for later use. Neat!
The A330neo is available in two versions: the A330-800 and A330-900, a larger plane which was what was used for the route proving exercise. The aircraft has Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, said to be more efficient where fuel consumption is concerned, with a reduction of 25% compared with older models. This fuel burn pattern is similar to that of the Boeing 787 aircraft.
At the moment, AirAsia/AirAsia X is the biggest A330neo customer with pre-orders of 66 planes (A330-900) from Airbus, scheduled for delivery from 2020. What this means for Malaysians is that travelling to London on the low-cost airline may be possible again in the next few years, as the A330neo is said to have an extended range capability.