A new privately owned airline, Eaglexpress Air Charter, is planning to start Boeing 747-400 operations in Malaysia as early as next month, assuming its air operator certificate (AOC) is approved.
[The AOC] "hasn’t been approved yet, but they have been issued with a service permit for provisional approval,” says Mohd Yunus Charlie Charrington, director of air transport within Malaysia’s department of civil aviation. “They have to pass a technical audit before they are issued with an AOC and certificate of airworthiness.”
Airline CEO Azlan Zainal Abidin says the carrier hopes to receive its AOC on Feb. 13, the same day it completes its proving flight. He says the airline on Monday signed a contract with Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) parent, Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad (PMB), for the purchase of a former MAS Boeing 747-400, and it plans to buy two more 747-400s from PMB for delivery in March and April. MAS Engineering & Maintenance will help Eaglexpress with maintenance support, says Azlan.
In addition, Eaglexpress plans to acquire one 747-400F that will be used to launch wet-leased freighter services in April from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles and Anchorage via Seoul Incheon International Airport. Azlan says the carrier has already secured one customer for its freighter.
The passenger business, meanwhile, will be operating charter flights on behalf of travel agents, beginning with services from Malaysia to Australia, South Korea and China, says Azlan. The airline also wants to cater to Muslim pilgrimage traffic from Asia to Saudi Arabia. Azlan says there always seems to be a shortage of air services for Haj and Umrah, and this explains why the airline decided on the long-range 747-400s.
Once it has established its widebody passenger aircraft business, Eaglexpress hopes to expand into narrowbody passenger charters by flying Boeing 737-800s to destinations within Asia, Azlan says. Longer-term, it hopes to be in a position to acquire 747-8s and Boeing 787s, he adds.
Having a new airline in Malaysia—particularly a passenger airline operating aircraft as large as a 747—is significant because the Malaysian market is now largely dominated by AirAsia and MAS. It is difficult to get an AOC in Malaysia for scheduled services because this is a cabinet-level decision. But Eaglexpress needs approval only from the department of civil aviation because it will operate only charters. Azlan declines to rule out the possibility that it may operate scheduled services, but says this is up to the government to decide.
Azlan, who is a former MAS pilot, says he owns 20% of the airline, while South Korean pilot Shin Man Soo owns 40%. The other shareholders, each with 20%, are Wan Ismail Abdul Rahman, former CEO of Maybank Finance, and Aseh Che Mat, former secretary general of Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs. Aseh is now chairman of MWE Holdings, a Malaysian company that makes clothing and electronic goods. He also sits on the boards of some other companies, including Pos Malaysia, the national postal service.