Nicholas Ionides ATI/SINGAPORE

Thailand's air transport industry is hotting up with the planned establishment of new airlines and expansion moves by existing private players amid a long-promised deregulation.

The Thai Government has said it implemented liberalisation measures on 1 September, allowing private carriers to compete more effectively with state-owned national carrier Thai Airways International.

Private carriers have been restricted for years from operating directly in competition with Thai, and forced to make unprofitable stop-overs on domestic flights.

New carriers are now being planned, among them Air Andaman, which aims to start operating turboprop aircraft on domestic routes from the end of October.

Air Andaman says it will operate under a "strict one-price system to maintain competitiveness in the industry", with flights to Krabi, Nakorn Si Thammarat, Ranong, Chumporn and Yangon in Myanmar from the tourist destination Phuket.

Privately owned Air Andaman is being established by a group of local investors in part connected to Thai company Central Department Store.

Existing private carriers are expanding their activities meanwhile.

Bangkok Airways said in August that it had finalised a major fleet expansion, comprising the lease of four Boeing 717s and the purchase of 12 ATR 72s, nine of which will replace ATR turboprops. The first of the 717s is to be delivered in November for introduction on Bangkok-Pattaya-Phnom Penh services. A second, to be delivered in March, is likely to be put into service on the Koh Samui-Singapore route.

Another private carrier, PB Air, has also been expanding. In May, it launched its first international flights to Singapore from Krabi and Bangkok, and more new destinations are expected.

Not all has been good news in Thailand, however.

In 1998 a new privately owned carrier, Angel Air, was designated the country's second national airline, giving it rights to compete with Thai, although it has been struggling ever since and temporarily suspended operations in June.

Some services have been resumed through a partnership with another private carrier, charter operator Orient Thai Airways, which has for years been a strong critic of government restrictions on local airlines.

Angel's future remains unclear, however, and it has been seeking a foreign partner for some time to help save it from collapse.

Source: Airline Business