As AirAsia X commences flights to Hawaii in June, I feel this milestone warrants a deviation from my usual stories revolving around the technical know-how of flying, and a closer look at some of the preparations involved in launching this exotic destination.
In February, AirAsia X announced four weekly flights to Hawaii from Malaysia, via Japan. Travel time on the Airbus A330 aircraft is approximately seven hours for the first leg of the journey to Japan, then an additional eight and a half hours to Hawaii. Guests will be pleased to know that they do not require a Japanese visa for the two-hour stopover in Osaka.
With the introduction of this exciting destination, AirAsia X has successfully connected Asia with the US, bringing quality low-cost long-haul travel to the masses.
READY TO GO
You may be surprised to learn this, but preparations to fly this exciting route began a good two years ago, with special flight crew training, as well as intensive efforts to improve operational processes in order to secure clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
After much hard work, the airline received clearance in January this year, becoming the only Malaysia-based airline to operate scheduled passenger flights to the US, without riding on a codeshare agreement. It also helped that AirAsia X completed the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) – the benchmark for global safety management in airlines – in April 2015, demonstrating compliance to the most stringent of aviation rules.
I’ve often been asked about planning flight routes over vast stretches of water. Well, there are rules that apply to such oceanic flights. In my last article A Meticulous Plan (April 2017), I explained that from 1936, pilots were required to ascertain that there were suitable landing fields at a minimum distance of every 100 miles along their flight route. As the aviation industry developed, this rule was extended, whereby twin-engine aircraft were allowed a 60-minute diversion period, meaning the pilot had to ensure that for every 60 minutes over the course of a route, there was an appropriate possible landing site. AirAsia X’s Airbus A330 has approval to operate under the 180-minute rule, which means that the airline is certified to operate the long oceanic route.
Due to extremely high traffic on the route connecting Hawaii and Japan, as well as the great distance between the two destinations, airlines plying this prime airway operate on the Pacific Organised Track System (PACOTS). These are generally high altitude Pacific routes between East Asia and the islands of Hawaii, designed specifically to offer airlines the shortest possible course, thereby, utilising the least amount of fuel, allowing for more efficient flights. Tracks on this special ‘highway’ are flexible, as weather conditions are taken into account, and pilots must keep abreast of the route changes.
For safety purposes, planes flying PACOTS are spaced at a minimum of 50 to 100 miles apart, and are kept 10 minutes from one another while flying the same route.
RULES & REGULATIONS
As we commence our new route, it’s pertinent to look at flight regulations specific to the US. In late 2016, the US Department of Transportation and the FAA issued an emergency order banning passengers from carrying the Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone device on air transportation in the US. This prohibition covers all forms of carriage, be it on their person, in carry-on baggage, or in checked luggage. Following this prohibition, the device has been banned on all flights operated by the AirAsia Group.
In March 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security announced new carry-on restrictions pertaining to electronic devices (like laptops and e-readers measuring more than 16cm in length, 9.3cm in width and 1.5cm in height) carried on direct flights originating from specific airports, stipulating that such devices would only be permitted in checked luggage. Although this ban does not apply to passengers on flights originating in Kuala Lumpur or passing through Osaka, it’s always prudent to be aware of safety concerns in the destination you are visiting. Knowing what you can and cannot pack in carry-on and checked luggage will also save you the trouble of repacking your bags at the airport.
As a reminder, please pay careful attention to the liquids rule, which stipulates that passengers who wish to hand carry liquids, gels and aerosols are limited to travel-size containers (100ml or smaller) that are packed in resealable bags to clear security screening. Although this rule has been enforced in airports across the world since 2006, I still see passengers struggling to extricate mineral water bottles and long-forgotten tubes of hand lotion from their carry-on bags while clearing security. For inbound international flights, please note that passengers are permitted to carry duty free liquids like liquors and fragrances over 100ml, but only if the liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer, and are presented along with the original receipt for proof of purchase.
To learn about other flight regulations, install the MyTSA app, which allows you to run a search on items that are permitted through checkpoints. You should also visit www.faa.gov to learn about what the FAA deems as hazardous materials and if/how these items may be carried on board. Hazardous materials can include common everyday items like lithium batteries, which may seem harmless, but must be carried in accordance with safety regulations when in flight.
Finally, if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, I recommend booking AirAsia X’s Premium Flat bed for a relaxing journey across the Pacific. Mahalo (expression of gratitude and thanks in Hawaiian) for flying with AirAsia, and hope to see you soon, in the skies!
Captain Lim Khoy Hing is a former AirAsia Airbus A320 and AirAsia X A330/A340 pilot who also used to fly the Boeing 777. He has logged a total of more than 25,500 flying hours and is now a Simulator Flight Instructor with AirAsia X. In his spare time, he shares his opinion on aviation issues with others. For more air travel and aviation stories, check out his website, ‘Just About Flying’ at www.askcaptainlim.com.
Captain Lim’s book, LIFE IN THE SKIES, which won third place in the Reader’s Choice Award at the Malaysia BookFest 2015, and its Mandarin version 【飞行日记】 are now available for purchase onboard all AirAsia and AirAsia X flights. Pre-book your copy at www.bigdutyfree.com. Enjoy these great collections of articles by a veteran aviator.