AirAsia X’s maiden flight to London flew into exceptionally beautiful weather and a royal welcome from the Duke of York, Prince Andrew.
THE AirAsia X aircraft stood gleaming in the afternoon sun. It looked all freshened up, thanks to the splash of ceremonial water cannon welcome at London Stansted Airport.
But you can’t really fault what the airline has touted as the latest girl in town for strutting its stuff.
Moments later, you get that surreal feeling as you catch sight of the Jalur Gemilang and Union Jack fluttering side by side atop the Airbus A340 at Britain’s third busiest airport.
Well, the pilot, Captain Chin Nyok San, was actually waving the flags out of the cockpit window. A sudden burst of patriotism, so to speak.
For the plane carrying 286 passengers had just completed a textbook landing despite a gruelling 13,000km journey during its maiden flight from Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday.
Save for some air turbulence over India and eastern Europe, it was pretty much plain sailing all the way.
The plane flew not just into exceptionally beautiful weather but also into a royal welcome from none other than the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, himself.
Arriving ahead of schedule by 24 minutes, the crew was commended by the prince who reportedly remarked that there were not many low-cost, long-haul airlines that come in early. Suffice to say, Malaysians had reason to be proud that day.
The Kuala Lumpur-London route had shown that a Malaysian company had risen from the bottom to become Asean’s first low-cost carrier connecting Asia and Europe.
If AirAsia X can do it, any Malaysian entity will be able to achieve what it sets out to do.
Amid the euphoria surrounding the historic flight, the four pilots and 11 cabin crew of Flight D7 2006 deserved no less mention for their role in ensuring a wonderful ride.
But when names like Capt Hans and Capt Adrian Jenkins – apart from Capt Chin and First Officer Ahmad Zulismadi – cropped up, one might be forgiven for thinking that the first two are Mat Sallehs.
“That’s just my nickname. Everyone calls me that,” said an upbeat Capt Azhanudin Shah Azman at the Radisson SAS Hotel about two hours after the touchdown.
The Johor Baru-born head of flight operations still could not get over the fact that they had actually landed in London.
“Just before we landed, I remember telling Adrian, congratulations guys, we’re here! And when we parked the aircraft, I was like, huh, very relieved,” he said.
Capt Azhanudin, 40, said the fantastic weather and favourable winds had helped bring their flight to an early arrival.
Call it a good omen but the sudden change in weather prompted him to quip that they had brought over the sun and the Malaysian charm.
“It has been proven today that we can achieve on time performance as one of our best key performance indicators,” said Capt Azhanudin, who has clocked over 10,000 flying hours in nearly 20 years.
On the most challenging part of the 13-hour flight, he said it was more the human factor, such as dealing with tiredness rather than the journey itself.
He, however, said there was no concern in terms of operation as the pilots were well trained and knowledgeable due to their good training foundation.
Capt Adrian admitted that he had to be extra cautious to avoid violating any speed or height restrictions as it was his first landing at the airport.
“We came in rather smoothly as there was not much traffic,” said the 40-year-old pilot who also has nearly 10,000 hours of flying experience in his 15-year career.
Capt Adrian, who originally hailed from Kota Kinabalu, paid tribute to the air traffic controllers for their professionalism and precision, which made their job so much easier.
But this is only the beginning, as Asean secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan aptly put it.
The bigger challenge would be for all 10 capitals of Asean to be connected directly with their European counterparts to boost intra-regional business, tourism and investment.
If the airline can keep up its services and continue to maintain its low, low fares, the sky’s the limit.
As AirAsia boss Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes always says, believe the unbelievable, dream the impossible. Above all, it should never say no to lower fares.