Malaysia Airlines Is Bringing Back The 747!

Filed Under: Malaysia

While there are many things I love about the A380, the 747 will always be the queen of the skies, in my opinion.

The 747 signified a quantum leap for aviation, as it opened up new possibilities. It’s amazing to think that Boeing went from the 707 straight to the 747.

Unfortunately the 747 isn’t the most fuel efficient plane out there anymore, and we’ve seen airlines progressively retire them over the past several years.

Malaysia Airlines used to have a fleet of Boeing 747s, which they retired in 2012. This coincided with the airline taking delivery of their six Airbus A380 aircraft, which they used primarily for their London and Paris routes.

Malaysia Airlines A380

Following the terrible tragedies of MH370 and MH17, Malaysia Airlines has been forced to restructure and downsize, and as part of that they’ve retired their entire 777 fleet.

Malaysia Airlines 777

That means the only plane which Malaysia Airlines can still operate to many points in Europe is the A380. As of now, Malaysia Airlines just operates their A380s on their two daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and London Heathrow (I’ve reviewed the route in first class from both London to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to London).

Malaysia Airlines A380 first class

Apparently some of these A380s will soon be going through maintenance, meaning they’ll have a plane shortage. And the airline has a unique solution — Malaysia Airlines will be taking a 747 out of storage and using it as an A380 replacement.

While the exact dates the plane will be operated haven’t yet been announced, the Malaysia 747 is currently getting a new paint job, per pictures in this Reddit thread. It’s pretty cool that Malaysia Airlines is actually giving it a retro livery.

Malaysia 747 being repainted

Malaysia 747 being repainted

As an aviation geek I love the retro livery, though I suspect the real reason for it is that the airline wants to distance itself more from its previous livery, given the negative connotations people have with it. I suppose Malaysia could have gone with the new livery as well, though this alternative seems more fun.

Now, the million dollar question is why Malaysia Airlines is bringing back the 747. They have six A380s to operate two daily flights to London Heathrow, a service which could easily be operated with only 3-4 A380s. I understand they have to undergo maintenance, but why can’t they do that with the two spare A380s they have?

That’s puzzling, because bringing a 747 back into service seems like an expensive solution. They’re having to repaint the plane, presumably do some maintenance on it, get crews certified on the plane again, adjust capacity, etc. Presumably they knew their A380s needed maintenance, and would have just held off a bit on retiring their 777s, which could have also operated the route.

Malaysia Airlines 747 first class

Bottom line

As an aviation geek I’m super excited about seeing a 747 return to service, and will make a point of trying to fly it.

Nonetheless I simply can’t wrap my head around the logic of this decision, given how cash-strapped Malaysia Airlines is. They’re already inefficiently utilizing their A380s, so how they can’t operate two flights a day to London with six A380s (even with one or two in maintenance) is beyond me. And if they couldn’t, you’d think they would have just delayed the retirement of one or two 777s, rather than bringing a 747 back into service.

I’m sure there’s something obvious I’m missing, because Malaysia’s CEO, Christoph Mueller, is a very bright guy…

Anyone as excited/confused about Malaysia bringing back the 747 as I am?

  1. What’re they going to do with the interiors? You have what appears to be an artist’s rendering, but it boggles the mind that they’d refit an entire plane’s interior. And if they do, F on the 747’s – per the above rendering – is absolutely NOT on par with the A380. If I were a passenger expecting the A380, I’d be fairly upset about an apparent downgrade to the cabin. This is indeed puzzling from both a cost and passenger satisfaction perspective. Is he trying to make the airline fail harder than the two tragedies already have?

    As an aside, I always think the retro liveries are a cop-out and a way to “remarket/rebrand” without doing any real work. Agree to disagree.

  2. My thought is Malaysia Airlines is going back to the Queen of the skies to show the general public of a reliable steady rock solid aircraft that the public thinks as safe and secure and is a different era than the 777 that the tragedies happened on.

  3. Personally I don’t see the point of restoring an old 747-400. With or without refitting, it’s going to cost an already unprofitable airline a lot of money.

    Hajj season’s not supposed to kick in until around September this year. So even if they are under contract to carry many passengers to Jeddah/Medina then it’s way too soon to get them in the hangar and prepare them for hajj pilgrims.

    The maintenance schedule is just.. Odd. It makes no sense that all of a sudden they have to do what I assume are D-Checks for the entire fleet of 6 A380s. Even with the heavy maintenance they should still have at least half the fleet available for their flagship route to and from LHR. Maybe they intend to change the interior to make further capacity adjustments and be more competitive in the market? Mueller did say in behalf of MH, and I quote “Our product is very tired”. Maybe they’re trying to fit what they have on their A330s onto their A380s.

    Whatever their reason is, I’m sure it’s good enough for the MH board of directors to vote “for” as the majority

  4. MH is at this point is intended to be more a jobs program, than it is a profitable air carrier. Its decisions must be viewed through this prism.

  5. From what I’ve heard (some of which were from here). They were planning to offload the A380s for cash, and the 747s have already been paid for (and presumably have a worse resale value then those 772s they’re also trying to offload).

    Given the low price of oil for now, perhaps the inefficiency might be bearable despite the costs for retraining and recertification, while they try to find a buyer for the A380 and B772s without disrupting the schedules. As @Andrew pointed out, MASkargo still has a fleet of B744Fs, so there would be some maintenance commonality.

    I, for one, would be happy to take a flight KUL-SIN in a B744 if they decide to operate some (re-)training flights.

  6. It is cheap to re-use 747s. plus fuel is so cheap. MH cant fill up the A380s especially the business and first class sections.

    A380s costs more to maintain.

  7. As one of the other posters pointed out above, Malaysian don’t only use their A380’s on the KL to London Heathrow route, they also use them flying pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

  8. MH has made no secret of its desire to offload the A380 fleet. Since they no longer have a 777 fleet, the parked 747’s make sense. They already own the aircraft, fuel prices are low, and they still operate the type in cargo services. Even if the 747 has a higher maintenance burden since it’s an older aircraft, you can be certain that the cost of spares is a lot lower than the A380. The supply pool of 747 spares is vast, with plenty of companies competing in the aftermarket. The source for A380 spares is Airbus, and you can be confident they’re not offering much of a discount on those. It’s my impression that Airbus makes a lot more money on the aftermarket than they do on the original ship sale.

  9. No logic, that also explains the famous MAS 3 lettering designation to this lousy airline. MAS in Malay stands for “Manna Ana System”. Meaning, where’s the system ? Clearly there isn’t one. So typical of MAS.

  10. Maybe instead of incessantly repeating how much of an “aviation geek” you are in a desperate attempt to try to convince the rubes that you know what you’re talking about, you might want to actually learn something about aviation once. Like:
    “It’s amazing to think that Boeing went from the 707 straight to the 747.”
    Do tell? They went “straight” from the 707 to the 747, eh?
    Such a very credible expert you are.

  11. @Steven Schwartz has a point there. Reviving the confidence in MAS is important especially both incidents were 777 and lots in SEA are still very superstitious. Fuel is definitely cheap now but anyone know what’s the consumption difference? I can only find the comparison between A380 and 747-8, and I don’t think MAS has any 747-8s.

  12. Yes, you are right about MAS not owning a single 747-8I. Fuel, in terms of litre per passenger, is cheaper on the A380 than the 747-400. A single flight from London to KL, for example, translates to 2.78 barrels per passenger for the 747-400 as opposed to just 2.39 on the A380. And if you compare one against the other in terms of passenger capacity as well, then you have a clear winner as to which aircraft is more efficient than the other.

    I have said it before and I will say it again – even though MAS is under contract to carry hajj pilgrims to Medina/Jeddah, it only occurs during hajj season. Which will kick off in about August to mid/late September. So we can all safely assume that they’re grounding all their A380 (those not scheduled to undergo heavy maintenance).

    I wonder if they’re using the 747-400 as an alternative to the A380 until the A350 arrives?

  13. Expensive plane to start with. Generally low competitive fare and high operating cost no way can the airline to make money with only 1 flight per day per plane. Do the math.

  14. Just a head’s up, it’s now called MAB. Or that’s the abbrieviation for Malaysia Airlines Bhd. Some thoughts

    1) MAB was trying to sell off the 2 surplus A380s and may already have done so although that would have been a bit daft if they knew the other 2 were about to go in for a major overhaul
    2) Isn’t it a bit soon for these aircraft to get a major overhaul? I thought the first major overhaul for commercial aircraft is now 7 years?
    3) There are plenty of aircraft out there available for lease that at a fraction of the cost of refitting and getting certification for one (only one?) 747 would do a better job.
    4) If they are intending to use the 747s for commercial routes, I doubt it’ll be to London. More likely to be for charter flights from China or Russia or for the Haj/Umrah.
    5) Don’t forget the A380 uses special gates/bridges etc at KLIA/Heathrow. They will have long term contracts to use these gates that will be more expensive than normal gates and will still have to be paid for as will new gates for the 747s, if Heathrow has any available at the time MAB lands/departs.

    Although I say so myself, this is what Malaysia Airlines needs to do if it is serious about rebranding.

  15. I’ve seen the 747 on the tarmac at KLIA but has anyone actually flown it anywhere? I haven’t heard of anyone who has done so. I think it may be a prop for a film? Anyone know?

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