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AirAsia X defers A330neo deliveries as coronavirus hits demand

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Malaysian long-haul budget airline AirAsia X Bhd said it will defer delivery of 78 Airbus SE A330neo planes and consider other changes to reduce its fleet as the coronavirus dents demand.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysian long-haul budget airline AirAsia X Bhd said it will defer delivery of 78 Airbus SE A330neo planes and consider other changes to reduce its fleet as the coronavirus dents demand.

AirAsia X said late on Thursday, it might sell two A330s that could fetch up to US$100 million and return five others to lessors early, adding it was already in negotiations with lessors about a targeted 30 per cent cut in lease rates.

The airline cancelled 600 flights in March, according to an investor presentation published after it released financial results showing a widened net loss and flagging lower forward bookings and fares under pressure.

Flights to and from mainland China accounted for about 30 per cent of AirAsia X's capacity before the outbreak of the virus. It has a fleet of 24 A330 planes.

AirAsia X shares fell by 5 per cent on Friday to a record low after it posted a net loss of RM95.8 million (S$31.7 million), widening from an RM88.1 million loss a year ago.

The carrier last August reached a revised deal with Airbus to take 78 A330neos and 30 long-range A321XLR narrowbodies, down from earlier plans for 100 A330neos. AirAsiaX is Airbus' biggest customer for the A330neo, a more fuel efficient version of the older A330 model.

AirAsia X said delivery of the A330neos would be deferred and it would move toward a dual-fleet strategy with A321s set to replace its A330s on routes of four to six hours when demand recovers.

AirAsia X did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the duration of the A330neo deferral, while an Airbus spokesman said the manufacturer does not comment on delivery schedules for individual airlines.

Short-haul sister carrier, AirAsia Group Bhd said on Thursday it may not achieve its internal projections for the year, as the industry takes a severe hit from the coronavirus outbreak.

Acting CEO and president Bo Lingam said AirAsia Group continues was taking proactive steps to limit the impact, include deploying capacity and aggressive marketing push.

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes and chairman Kamarudin Meranun have both stepped aside for at least two months amid investigations into a corruption scandal in which Airbus was alleged to have paid a US$50 million (S$69.9 million) bribe for plane orders.

REUTERS