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NEW DELHI : Malaysia Airlines will add new routes, increase frequencies and upgrade aircraft to cater to the Indian market, which remains a key geography for the airline. While the flag carrier of Malaysia expects a strong uptick in travel from India to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, it is currently seeing high demand for countries like Australia and other Asia Pacific destinations on its network from India, said group CEO Izham Ismail. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

Have you seen a recovery in the Indian market?

Malaysia Airlines is currently seeing better-than-expected demand pickup, leading us to increase frequencies and upgrading to wide-body aircraft on certain flights/routes (to India). India remains one of the key markets for us. We are very confident about the Indian market becoming a top international destination and are closely monitoring the market to expand opportunities based on the demands.

How many weekly flights are you currently operating to and from India? What are your expansion plans like?

Since 27 March, Malaysia Airlines has reinstated its scheduled commercial services from India, with 25 weekly flights from five major cities, namely New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, following a 24-months suspension due to border closure between the two countries. We will be gradually increasing frequencies by year-end to cater to growing demands. We are looking at achieving pre-pandemic capacity back for India by the end of the year.

Do you think there will be enough demand for hubs (for Indian travellers) after the pandemic, as many people now prefer to fly direct to their destinations?

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) India, in a report titled India Airline Outlook 2022, has indicated that 2022 is expected to see a surge of 52% in domestic and 60% in international air traffic. As we have seen, demand for travel will continue to pick up after borders globally have been closed off for more than two years. Recovery will largely be driven by the leisure and visiting friends and family (VFR) segments, while corporate travel will recover at a much slower pace. We are expecting closer or short-haul destinations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore to see a strong uptick in the next few quarters, among the first-time international leisure travellers. We are also seeing a lot of demand coming in for Australia, Indonesia and other Asia-Pacific destinations on our network from India.

How is Malaysia Airlines looking to expand its overall operations after the pandemic?

Since the government announced the reopening of Malaysia’s borders, we have seen a positive response from travellers eager to resume their travels. Ticket sales have been showing substantial growth with more than 100%. We are currently looking at very encouraging advanced booking on Malaysia Airlines with more than 80% load factor on most flights. We are seeing a strong pent-up demand

How are you addressing issues of surging fuel prices?

While the gradual reopening of global borders will accelerate air travel recovery, we are also facing significant headwinds with high fuel prices. The current Russian/Ukraine conflict has raised concerns. All companies within the group have taken immediate steps to manage the impact of higher fuel cost. Safety remains the top priority and measures have been taken to avoid the conflict zone.

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