OLBIA — Last week, Airways had the exclusive opportunity to participate in the inaugural international flight from New York (JFK) to Milan-Malpensa (MXP) on Italy’s newest airline, Air Italy (IG).
The carrier launched flights to JFK after receiving its first Airbus A330-200 from Qatar Airways (QR) on June 1.
The wide-body plane has joined Air Italy on a leasing agreement with QR, which will last approximately two years until the Italian carrier takes delivery of its first batch of Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, also coming in from the Doha-based airline.
Air Italy not only launched international operations; it also flew its first, brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8 from MXP to the airline’s hometown, Olbia (OLB) in the beautiful island of Sardegna.
Airways was invited to be part of this first flight to the airline’s headquarters, where exclusive access was given to see the operations at OLB, as well as some alone time with the MAX.
Before its deployment to OLB, the first Air Italy 737 MAX had been scheduled on many legs between MXP and Naples (NAP), Palermo (PMO), and Catania (CTA).
However, on June 3, the airline organized a single flight for the MAX to visit the airline’s headquarters in the Sardinian city of Olbia.
The 737 MAX arrived at MXP for an on-time departure. The plane parked at gate A10, where passengers were called for boarding at 13:30.
Upon entering the aircraft, an indescribable new plane scent invaded the jetway.
The aircraft’s plaques on top of the L1 door, depict the following data:
The aircraft’s interiors, accentuated with two different seat colors, the typical Boeing Sky Interior, and the new MAX overhead bins, mark a sharp difference from previous generation 737s.
Each seat on the IG 737 MAX is neatly designed, with a modern tablet holder, the typical magazine/safety card storage unit, and plenty of space in the emergency exit rows. Power ports are also available on every seat—a first for an Italian airline.
The airline claims that each seat offers a “generous” 31-inch pitch.
The plane pushed back from the gate at 15:12, then turning on the new MAX engines, emitting a deep roar that imitates the larger turbofans that aircraft like the 777 have.
At 15:18, the plane lined up with the runway and performed a powerful takeoff.
Compared to previous generation 737s, the feeling of power is decidedly different. The engine sound throughout the entire journey is much less noticeable. The plane is remarkably silent.
At 15:40, the in-flight service began. Air Italy-branded cups were filled with various types of juices, water, and sodas. A hearty turkey and tomato sandwich was also handed out to every passenger in economy class.
The approach and landing into OLB was turbulent and fast. Winds of up to 25 knots caused our plane to fly a choppy approach.
However, a smooth landing followed with a very silent reverse thrust. Total flight time lasted 55 minutes.
The plane, as mentioned above, is remarkably silent.
EXPLORING THE 737 MAX 8
Upon landing, Airways was invited to remain onboard and detail its interiors.
The economy cabin features 30 rows of seats in the typical 737 3-3 configuration.
The rear lavatories—unlike in the American Airlines 737 MAX—are spacious and modern. The airline also features mood lighting inside the toilets, making them look more futuristic than others.
One flaw in the 737 cabin’s design is the lack of a central galley where an additional lavatory would work in favor of passenger comfort. Because of this, passengers queue for the rear toilets in the central aisle, causing discomfort amongst passengers and flight attendants.
The rear galley is equipped with three latest technology ovens. Even though Air Italy does not offer hot meals in economy, it might be within the scope for future long-haul flights on the 737 MAX.
Moving to the front of the aircraft, the Business Class is nothing more than a modified Economy Class with the middle seats blocked for usage. Leg pitch is the same as in economy (31”).
This is unfortunate, as Air Italy advertises to have a “full Business Class” on its 737 MAXs when in reality it’s the same seat as in Economy but with improved in-flight service.
It would have been revolutionary to implement a real Business Class, just like Air Serbia did in the past. However, the Belgrade-based airline removed their 2-2 configuration up front and returned to a similar layout to Air Italy’s.
The front galley is practically equal to the rear, with the difference of having an espresso machine—a must for an Italian carrier.
Moving up to the Flight Deck, First Officer Andrea Boggiatto tells Airways that the best part of flying the 737 MAX is “the added power that comes out of the huge engines.”
According to Boggiatto, Air Italy’s 737 crews did not have to go to a simulator session to transition to the MAX.
“We’re all 737NG pilots. We just had to go through a ground school transition program. It was quite easy,” he revealed.
The Flight Deck’s main difference from the previous generation is the four large screens that “make everything much better” for the pilots, as said by the Air Italy First Officer. “Other than that, it’s the same plane,” he said.
As the cleaning crew boarded the plane to prepare it for the next flight, they complained because the plane’s air conditioning “was too strong.”
Some of them joked that “American planes come with American air conditioning,” which in Europe is often despised.
However, for the regular traveler, it’s much appreciated.
Up next, Airways was invited to meet the 737 MAX from the outside.
The plane’s winglets are the primary differentiator from previous generation 737s. Air Italy painted them in a matte blue, whereas the rest of the aircraft sports a shiny white, burgundy and blue markings with a light gray belly.
Another differentiator is the plane’s tail cone, which was enlarged to the likes of the 757’s style.
The engine’s size is indeed larger, especially in diameter. The aircraft’s landing gear had to be increased to allow for the bigger turbofans to be fitted onto the plane.
After a 10-minute ramp exploration, the plane was ready to head back to MXP.
Airways was invited to push the plane back from the gate inside the airport’s tow truck, an experience that very few can experience.
For that reason, a video immortalized the exciting moment, capturing all details, including the engine startup, taxi, and takeoff.
19 MORE TO COME, 7 TO GO
Air Italy is set to receive 19 more 737 MAXs in the next three years, with two more joining the fleet in 2018.
The airline will show its second plane at the upcoming Farnborough Air Show, together with other Qatar Airways planes.
As new MAX planes join the fleet, the seven older 737NGs will be progressively phased out, starting in 2019.
By 2021, Air Italy will sport one of the continent’s newest, latest generation fleets, dropping its average age of 16 years down to just one.
Together with the 25 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, Air Italy will have the opportunity to become a protagonist in the European aviation landscape.