TOULOUSE, FRANCE – Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) on Thursday received the first of seven new Airbus aircraft, as the flag carrier enters the first phase of its fleet renewal programme with plans to expand its network to capture a growing Far East Asian market.

With new engines and better fuel efficiency, the A320neo — the world’s most in-demand narrow body aircraft — opens up opportunities for RB to operate medium-haul routes within seven hours of Brunei, said the airline’s CEO Karam Chand.

“The aircraft will be delivered starting from May to November,” Chand told media at the handover of the first A320neo in Toulouse, France.

“The opportunity for Brunei is in north Asia in a number key markets — Japan; China, we only have a very small foot print there; and we’re not in Taiwan… We’re examining in quite a bit of detail these options as well as India, which represents a sizable middle class population that likes to travel.”

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RB currently flies to 18 destinations from Brunei International Airport. Last year they introduced a twice weekly service to Seoul, with plans to open up routes to three cities in mainland China —  Nanning, Hangzhou and Beijing — in 2018, in addition to existing routes to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

China is the second biggest market for tourist arrivals into Brunei, with over 52,000 visitors in 2017. South Korea has also been identified as the fastest growing market, with arrivals increasing 145 percent within the last year.

 

FLEET MODERNISATION

With the delivery of seven A320neos and the airline’s fifth Boeing 787 Dreamliner this year, RB will expand its fleet from 10 to 14 aircraft. The flag carrier’s older A320s, currently on lease, will be phased out.

Chand said RB now operates the “youngest” fleet in the world — with the delivery of all the new planes by the end of 2018, the average age of an aircraft will be two years.

He explained that the addition of the A320neo aircraft will help improve operational reliability and reduce RB’s costs in the long-term.

“We’ve invested heavily in the new fleet, both the A320neo and Dreamliner, and they both do the job in terms of reducing a significant amount in fuel burn and emissions.”

An employee of Airbus gestures to the body of an A320neo on the assembly line at the Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

The current list price for the A320neo is US$110.6 million, although Airbus usually offers clients a significant discount for multiple orders.

The CEO did not disclose the purchase value of the seven aircraft, citing confidentiality, but said a financing plan will be announced by the airline on Tuesday. As a government-linked company, RB rarely discloses its financials.

“As a legacy airline, after 43 years you start to have your costs creep up. Having a modern A320 allows us to reset our cost price significantly. The latest technology allows us all the others benefits — 15 percent reduction in fuel, so that’s a very significant saving.”

THE AIRCRAFT

RB’s A320 ‘neo’ — which stands for new engine option — delivers those fuel savings with CMF International’s LEAP engines and the incorporation of ‘sharklets’, a wingtip design which reduces wind drag.

Airbus claims the fuel-efficient engines reduce the cash operating cost by 14 percent per seat.

RB’s A320neo features a three-class layout — 12 business seats, 18 economy plus seats and 120 main cabin seats all clad in brown and grey leather.

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Each seat is also fitted with the latest Thales Avant in-flight entertainment system, making RB the first airline to equip its narrow body fleet with the Gen5 consoles.

“We worked with Airbus on the overall cabin design, but also the seat manufacturer and the entertainment provider,” said Chand. “Our sector length is increasing so the guest comfort and entertainment becomes quite crucial. We have to understand what the customer needs on a longer journey.”

Royal Brunei’s first A320neo will enter service on June 7, flying from Bandar Seri Begawan to Singapore.

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