Ong was in Toulouse to receive one of Firefly's 20 new aircraft, the ATR 72-600, which the airline purchased in 2007 from Avions de Transport Regional (ATR), France's largest regional aircraft maker. Nineteen more of the turboprop aircraft will enter service in stages until 2019 as part of Firefly's expansion.
The airline's passenger manifest has grown from 100,000 in 2007 to 1.7 million last year. With 12 available aircraft of the ATR 72-500, Firefly flies 25 domestic and internatonal routes to destinations as Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.
The airline is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MAS and began operations in April 2007. Ong says the turboprop ATR 72-600 is one the safest aircraft around and is equipped with a carbon fibre propeller engine, the technology for which is also used by military air-freight planes globally. Meanwhile, ATR Media Relations manager, David Vargas explained the military always had up-to-date innovative technologies and propeller engined airplanes had evolved and were still being used in the industry. He said the ATR 72-600 aircraft can travel 1,665 kilometres with a full passenger load, and is suitable for short-haul routes under 500 kilometres and 1,000 kilometre flights. "Due to its propeller powered engine, the aircraft is 40 per cent fuel efficient compared to regional jet aircraft," he added. ATR is an equal partnership between two major European aeronautics players, Alenia Aermacchi (a Finmeccanica Group company) and EADS. Founded in 1981, ATR has sold over 1,200 aircraft with a customer base comprising 182 operators in 90 countries. Vargas said for the flights under 550 kilometres, turbo-prop aircraft recorded 40 per cent of it, followed by 38 per cent of single-aisle aircraft, 25 per cent of regional jet aircraft and one per cent by wide-bodied airplanes. "Turbo-props are the preferred choice for short haul routes worldwide and particularly in fast growing economies," he told a briefing for Malaysian journalists undertaking a media familiarisation trip by Firefly to Toulouse in conjunction with the aircraft handing over ceremony. The new ATR 72-600 will be flown in by three Firefly pilots, accompanied by six engineers and a Civil Aviation Department officer from Toulouse to Kuala Lumpur. It will begin the first commercial flight to Johor Baharu from the Skypark Terminal, in Subang, on July 12. One of captains, Kamarul Alam Radzi, 37, who has been with Firefly for five years, said he was proud to fly the new generation aircraft home.
"The new aircraft is the most advanced propeller aircraft to date and greatly increases the safety and comfort of passengers," he added. The aircraft features the latest innovation in terms of passenger comfort, with the award winning Armonia cabin designed by Giugiaro Design, and equipped with new slim-line seats with soft leather, larger overhead bins and appealing LED lights. Ong said the new aircraft will enable Firefly to further expand its regional offering by adding new routes, frequencies and connectivity to the Asean network. -- BERNAMA MRA AS