AirX Goes Big
Malta-based AirX describes itself as ‘The most diversified airline in the world’, and with a fleet based on the Airbus A340-300, Boeing 737-500, Bombardier Challenger 850, Cessna Citation X and Embraer Lineage 1000 and Legacy 600, it may well be correct. The company specialises in executive charters, operating globally and supporting music tours, sports teams, discrete royal party and head of state travel, and the needs of private individuals and groups.
AirX’s clever aircraft acquisition policies enable it to deliver cost-effective high-end luxury travel, epitomised by the 100-seat A340-300, registered 9H-BIG and making a brief stopover at its London Stansted base when EVA caught up with it late in November. Up close, the A340 is evidently a very large jet, but thanks to its spacious interior layout, 9H-BIG somehow appears even more expansive on the inside. Six-abreast seating combines with huge living space to create an airy, comfortable environment optimised for long-haul travel.
Depending on customer requirements, fine dining is available, presented by AirX’s experienced flight attendants. While the cabin can be equipped to suit a variety of functions, including a German DJ party… For sports teams or individuals travelling with extensive luggage or cargo, the aircraft’s underfloor holds are also more than ample – motorsports teams have used the aircraft to move cars and equipment below deck, while personnel travel in the cabin.
Bernhard ‘Bernie’ Wallner, AirX Group Chief Commercial officer and one of the company’s A340 pilots, manages 9H-BIG. He says: “The aircraft flies between 700 and 800 hours per year,” a reasonably high usage rate for a business jet, but very low for an airliner. Since the A340 is an airliner by design, how does AirX manage its maintenance? “We’re on Airbus’ low-utilisation plan, actually designed for ACJ’s. And we chose this particular aircraft because at our rate of use it has sufficient cycles remaining for another five or six years, while for an airline, with its higher usage rates, its career was effectively over.”
There’s no typical mission for 9H-BIG, but Wallner says sports teams usually take round-trip charters of between three and five sectors during pre-season training or tours. “We took an NBA basketball team to China, for example, and we were very busy during the FIFA World Cup in Russia.” Business jets rarely operate with full passenger loads and no soccer team has 100 players; does 8H-BIG therefore ever have all its 100 seats filled? Surprisingly, “Our last four trips were full, and our average load is around 80 passengers,” Wallner reports.
And aside from regular luggage, what goes in the hold? “We’ve out cars in on pallets and lots of sports equipment – ten to 15 tonnes of cargo in total. Musicians tend to send their equipment by freighter but, for example, Lady Gaga’s stage wardrobe was between three and four tonnes.”
Where 9H-BIG makes in impression though, is with its cabin and the AirX team that operates it. A crew of three pilots, a flight engineer and between nine and 11 flight attendants, depending on passenger load, is standard. Should VVIP service be required, 12 flight attendants are carried. The attendants tend to have Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad first-class backgrounds, while some have experience on large VVIP aircraft in the Middle East.
There is also a dedicated operations team back in Malta, managing the A340 as it makes its global journeys, coordinating airports, crew, maintenance requirements and flight planning. AirX is making a profit with its A340 and the possibilities of cross qualification between Airbus types is not lost on Wallner, who says the company is open to further Airbus acquisitions in future.
9H-BIG offers spacious passenger accommodation and huge underfloor cargo capacity
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