KUALA LUMPUR — May 18th, 2017 was a joyous occasion for Malindo Air, as it welcomed the world’s first Boeing 737-MAX 8 (Tail: 9M-LRC) at its home base – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL).
Departing from Seattle on May 16th, 2017, her maiden voyage to home base at Kuala Lumpur included refuelling stops at Anchorage and Tokyo.
Arriving in the wee hours of the morning at 2:28am into Kuala Lumpur, it had a quiet and unnoticed presence, being parked in a corner of the airport. That is, until 22nd May, 2017 that the aircraft will become the star of the show, operating the world’s first commercial flight of a Boeing 737 MAX 8.
Malindo Air serves 31 cities in 15 countries; and 14 cities domestically within Malaysia – an impressive resume for an airline of four years: its anniversary date – March 22nd, 2013. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (JED) is the longest route served by the carrier, from KUL, via Ahmedabad, India (AMD).
Boasting a fleet of 29 Boeing 737 Next Generation, the MAX will boost Malindo Air’s Boeing 737 fleet count to 30, with 3 more of the MAX to arrive this year. Malindo Air also operates a fleet of ATR 72-600s out of Subang Airport to destinations within West Malaysia and an international hop to Batam. The airline, with the backing of its parent company, Lion Air, is also adding widebody aircraft into its fleet, with Airbus A330-300s on order.
Ever since taking off for the first time in 1967, the Boeing 737 has become the most popular, best-selling jet aircraft in history. From the vanilla version, the -100 to the stretched -900, exhausting every single number in the series, Boeing is still not giving up on the Boeing 737 line. With the exterior largely unchanged since the original -100, the Boeing 737 is one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world and can be found in almost all commercial airports.
The MAX series is the fourth generation of the 737 family. It boasts of a larger and more efficient engine, improved airframe and split tip winglets that drive improved aerodynamics delivering 1.5 percent improvement in fuel economics, over the 10 to 12 percent improvement already expected for the 737 MAX. With maximum trust of up to 28,000 lbf (125 kN), the dash-MAX 8 is able to cruise at Mach 0.79 (523 kn; 968 kmh), covering a distance of 3,515 nmi (4,045 mi; 6,510 km).
Until recently, Southwest Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle were poised to become the first two operators the 737 MAX. In a surprising twist, Malindo Air leapfrogged the two carriers to secure the launch customer title. Norwegian is now scheduled to begin flying the 737 MAX on June 15th followed by Southwest Airlines on October 1st. After a stellar certification program, delivery of the first 737 MAX to Malindo Air was delayed by one day after the entire 737 MAX test fleet was temporarily grounded due to ongoing engine issues.
“This new aircraft, which allows us to go to farther destinations at a distance of 7 hours 30 mins, will certainly help attract tourists to our country. As tourism is a key revenue generator for the country, this new aircraft will play a key role in providing lower fares on air travel.” – Chief Executive, Malindo Air – Chandran Rama Muthy at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA’17)
Malindo Air’s MAX is configured in a 180-seat, all economy layout. This allows them to use the aircraft on routes with low or no premium demand, effectively allowing them to compete with AirAsia, the second-largest low cost carrier in Asia. The inaugural flight is to Singapore, on OD 803.
An inaugural flight is not to be taken lightly, especially this being the world’s first commercial flight. With the entire world looking, Malindo Air executed the entire event from the pre-flight conference to the arrival into Singapore with military precision as there was no room for error.
No less than 8 counters were open for check-in at a dedicated area in Row F of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The area was easily recognizable with banners displayed and staff wearing the special “First in the World Boeing 737 MAX 8” t-shirt.
The media event was conducted at Gate G1 with a view to the tarmac, ironically filled with a sea of Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 737-800s. There were performers in traditional costumes and playing the drums to up the hype of the event and refreshments were provided.
The crew for OD 803 soon arrived and they became instant superstars, raided by numerous cameras while posing in front of the display showing the star of the day.
The celebrations kicked off at 9am with the arrival of the VIPs, namely:
Mr. Chandran Rama Muthy, CEO, Malindo Air YBhg Dato’ Sri Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Director General of Civil Aviation Dr. Dinesh A. Keskar, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific & India Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes
The VIPs were welcomed with a traditional dance and soon the event commenced with a speech by Mr. Chandran Rama Muthy, the CEO of Malindo Air. As the airline faces a mixed identity currently with several planes in the Batik Air livery (with Malindo titles), the CEO finally confirmed that Malindo Air will be rebranded into Batik Air Malaysia from the second half of this year.
We were soon ushered to the tarmac to welcome the arrival of 9M-LRC, Malindo Air’s first Boeing 737 MAX 8 and the first delivered to an airline in the world. Powered by 2 CFMI-LEAP 1B engines, which also powers the Airbus A320neo, this particular frame is leased from Avolon and first flew on 24th March, 2017, just shy of being 2 months old. A ceremonial water cannon salute was given to the aircraft as a commemoration of this significant milestone in the history of aviation.
A token presentation ceremony was then held back in the event area with the exchange of tokens between the airline executives and government officials.
The long-awaited moment has finally come – boarding of flight OD 803 bound for Singapore. The cabin still smells new, almost an expectation of a plane this young. Breaking away from the tradition of brown leather with red lining, the seats on the MAX comes in a simple blue color scheme which goes on well with the mood lighting of the Boeing Sky Interior.
The cockpit of the MAX draws inspiration from the Boeing 787 with large digital screens. The most notable change was that the flap indicator is now digital instead of having a physical display like in the 737NG. The various fittings in the cockpit still largely remain from the NG era to allow the crew to have a quick transition to the MAX.
Once I settled down into my seat at 20A, I felt a sense of familiarity. The interior of the MAX is very similar to that of the older 737NG. The overhead panel has the usual features we expect – the air vents, reading lights and cabin signs. Note that the non-smoking sign is now just a physical symbol.
My seatmate at 20C asked me if this was a special event as he was a regular passenger, not knowing what was happening. I explained about the significance of this flight and how lucky we all were to be part of this flight. I can say that he definitely enjoyed the flight as much as I did after that!
There was a slight delay for departure and we lifted off runway 14R bound for Singapore. The beautiful engine sounds were complemented by the applause from the passengers as we lifted off the runway. All of us are part of aviation history now! During the take-off roll and climb, the aircraft cabin was noticeably quieter. From a passenger experience perspective, the 737 MAX by design mirrors the current Sky cabin equipped NextGeneration aircraft.
Once the seatbelt signs came off, organized chaos ensued. Besides people walking around to take pictures, there was also the cabin service going on and with the carts out, it certainly took lots of coordination to make the entire flight run smoothly.
We were given a snack box for this sector – a luxury compared to the usual offering of a tiny muffin and a cup of juice. The tasty tuna sandwich came with a packet of fruit juice – a full sized pack no less.
As with all flights between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the short distance meant that we soon commenced our descent towards Singapore Changi Airport. Banking over the
Indonesian islands off the Singapore Strait, the view out of the window changed rapidly from a large expanse of vegetation to the familiar sight of Changi in a matter of minutes.
Some 48 minutes after take-off, we touched down in Singapore Changi to applause.
Fire engines were already on standby at Gate B6 for another round of water cannon salute. This time, we get to experience it from the comfort of the seat.
A traditional lion dance troupe welcomed our arrival and they escorted the VIPs to the event area near the gate. The troupe performed a dance routine and ended it off holding Chinese couplets that say 《財源廣進》and 《萬事如意》, which means “keep the luck coming in” and “may you succeed in everything you do” when loosely translated. We were also joined by executives from the Changi Airport Group in Singapore.
A cake was then brought out for the cake cutting ceremony.
There was another symbolic exchange of tokens between the Malaysian and Singaporean officials which included a very attractive looking replica of the Boeing 737 MAX in Batik Air’s livery.
Most of the media personnel were directed back to the aircraft for the return flight to Kuala Lumpur, which took off with a 36-minute delay, possibly with another load of unsuspecting passengers.
The Boeing 737 MAX has certainly set the bar higher for future airplane manufacturers. I wish the Boeing 737 MAX program to be a huge success and looking forward to see it donned in many more beautiful liveries from airlines around the world!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel Tay
Big guy with a huge appetite for travel. I love experiencing places from a local’s perspective. The less touristy, the better. Also a foodie at heart with a huge passion for airplane food and unique cuisines around the around.