AirAsia X begins milestone first no-frills Asia-Europe longhaul operation.

AirAsia subsidiary, the longhaul LCC, AirAsia X (for extra long), commences five times weekly A340-300 service between Kuala Lumpur and London Stansted today, 11-Mar-09.

The A340 being utilised for the route is configured with 256 economy seats, with a seat pitch of 31.8 inches, and 30 "XL" seats, with 60-inch seat pitch.

With a standard fare well below half the level of most of its longhaul competitors and introductory fares which make a joke of airfares on the route, the airline could revolutionise travel between Australasia/Southeast Asia and London.

The high density aircraft's business - "XL" - seating, are also priced well below normal low economy prices.

The airline will also operate cargo service carrying approximately 8,000 kg of cargo per flight. IAM, Network Cargo Services, FlyUs, Global Cargo Management and ACT is acting as the carrier's cargo sales agents in Western Europe, with cargo handling at London Stansted will be carried out by Aviance.

AirAsia X, CAPA's New Airline of the Year, benefits from a level of traffic feed which has been absent from other longhaul, low cost operations which have failed in recent months. This should provide it with greater resilience than the other models. Its part ownership by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group also provides a certain level of underpinning.

With its Asia-wide network, AirAsia provides (non-interline) links into the AirAsia X services over the Kuala Lumpur Airport hub, as well as a number of Asian and Australian longhaul sectors already operated by AirAsia X itself using its A330 equipment.

AirAsia X launched its first service in Nov-07 to Australia's Gold Coast, using a leased A330. It has since launched Hangzhou (Feb-08), Perth (Nov-08) and Melbourne (Nov-08) services.

The carrier has ordered 25 A330-300s, the first of which was introduced on the Melbourne route.

At the London end, the carrier also plans to spin off the high number of LCC services based out of Stansted in order to support its Europe-originating sectors.

In many ways the airline could not be starting at a worse time, with the word now entering a "Great Recession". But on the other hand, heightened consumer pricing sensitivity, combined with lower fuel prices, could be precisely the model that responds to consumer needs.

Time will tell.

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