A “small regional airline” carried our most famous former Bali resident home this week

Emirates has Jennifer Aniston; Etihad has our Nic. Now Malindo Air has Schapelle to promote it.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock all week (or otherwise somehow been lucky enough to avoid the Kardashian-like hype about her), you will have noticed a certain infamous individual was released from a 10 year prison sentence and 3 year parole in Bali, and returned to Australia. Almost every media outlet attempted to capture the arrival of Schapelle Corby back on Australian soil, so we thought we’d cash in on it too.

Not quite Emirates – or Jennifer

She might not have the international cachet of Jennifer or Nicole Kidman, but, well, any kind of visibility is publicity. And this outing was free.

Schapelle, who was accompanied by her family during the flight, arrived into Brisbane from Bali on what some media described as “a small regional airline”. Meanwhile the main media channels had enhanced Virgin Australia’s load factor by booking out the flight they expected her to be on.

The small regional, Malindo Air flight OD-175 arrived in just after 5AM. A Malindo Air flight? Most Australians who saw all the coverage of the day didn’t have a clue who Malindo was and…..what were they doing flying to Australia?

Images of Malindo aircraft and staff started streaming across Australia’s news sources, with the now famous wing tip synonymous with the airline etched in the minds of everyone watching.

It seemed to play out as the perfect PR opportunity for any carrier, having its brand instantly seen by an audience far outnumbering any advertising opportunities.

It may be a small regional airline, but there’s a pretty good chance Australians will see a lot more of it in coming years. It’s from Indonesia’s Lion Air stable – another airline that most Aussies haven’t heard of – yet. Lion Air is a modest low cost airline that has become the largest in Indonesia over the last decade. The Lion Group has 212 aircraft – and another 431 on order (it’s growing). Qantas Group, including Jetstar and others, has 271 and 115 on order; Virgin has 116 and 43 on order.

Lion established its Malaysia-based subsidiary Malindo Air in 2013. It was to our knowledge the first full service subsidiary of an LCC and has since emerged as one of the fastest growing airlines in Asia, quickly expanding its network to 46 destinations and its fleet to 47 aircraft (as of early Jun-2017).

Malindo Air began in Australia in Nov-2015 operating a Kuala Lumpur-Perth service, as an experiment of sorts for the Lion Group. Lion previously never operated here, but has long held aspirations to offer several routes from both Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as toying with launching a domestic Australian airline (it almost certainly would today if there were a second Sydney airport with slots available).

Malindo Air began in Australia in Nov-2015 operating a Kuala Lumpur-Perth service, as an experiment of sorts for the Lion Group.

Malindo says the Kuala Lumpur-Perth route has been highly successful, leading it to add capacity on the route and prompting its sister Indonesian airline Batik Air also to select Perth as its first Australian destination, from Bali.

Malindo currently operates 10 weekly flights to Perth using two class 162-seat 737-800s, which gives it approximately a 22% share of capacity in the local Kuala Lumpur-Perth market and a 4% share of Perth’s total international market.

Malindo typically prices very competitively; using KL as its hub, for example it offers economy fares from Perth to southern India starting at slightly over AUD300 return and to northern India starting at AUD500 return. There are no non-stop options between Perth and India and the only non-stop flights from India to Australia, operated by Air India, require several hours of backtracking via Melbourne or Sydney. Otherwise Singapore Airlines is the main player between Australia and India.

As for Malindo’s service to Brisbane, which so happily welcomed Schapelle home, Malindo Air launched services to Brisbane in Jan-2017 with a daily service from Bali. While the flight originates in Kuala Lumpur, where Malindo is based, the airline expects passengers on the Bali-Brisbane leg to consist mainly of Australians holidaying in Bali. The occasional pseudo celebrity comes as a marketing bonus.

Malindo’s main competition in the Brisbane-Bali market comes from Jetstar Airways and Virgin Australia. Jetstar currently serves the route four times weekly with 335-seat two-class 787-9s while Virgin Australia offers 10 weekly fights using 176-seat two-class 737-800s.

Malindo’s daily service with 162-seat two-class 737-800s has provided an additional 1,134 weekly one-way seats in this market.

This equates to a 26.8% share of non-stop capacity, compared to 31.6% for Jetstar and 41.6% for Virgin Australia. Some of Malindo’s passengers continue beyond Bali to Kuala Lumpur – and to other Indonesian destinations served by other Lion Group airlines – but this traffic should be roughly similar to the number of passengers Jetstar and Virgin Australia carry beyond Brisbane.

Brisbane to Bali one-way seat capacity by airline: Sep-2011 to Nov-2017

Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation & OAG

Malindo is offering return fares in the Brisbane-Bali market starting at AUD600 including taxes. Fares on Virgin Australia are similar. Jetstar’s starting fares are slightly less than AUD600 however do not include bags, meals or seat assignments.

Regardless of the reason, Australians will start taking more notice of Malindo. We know the ailrine is preparing to launch its third destination in Australia in 4Q2017, following delivery of its first widebody aircraft, an A330. Melbourne and Sydney are both under consideration, with Melbourne the more likely initial selection. Either way, we look forward to the expansion. (And its name? Well, it’s a combination reflecting its Malaysian and Indonesian roots)