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​Thai cautious on new routes as it awaits fleet clarity

Thai Airways International is taking a careful approach to growth as it tries to forge a more consolidated group approach, while it awaits for more clarity on its fleet plans.

“Nowadays, with the limited availability of metal, we have to be cautious launching new destinations,” says Krittaphon Chantalitanon, vice-president of alliances and commercial strategy at Thai. “Not to mention the yet to be resolved issues with the [Boeing 787]. In terms of expansion, we need to be extremely cautious, more so than in the past, until all these issues are resolved.”

Issues with the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 issues powering its 787-8s have grounded four of its six examples – the carrier also operates two -9s.

Still, he says the carrier’s five-times-weekly Bangkok-Vienna 787-8 service launched in November 2017 has done well. Thai Smile’s daily Bangkok-Kaohsiung A320 service has also done well since its October 2017 launch.

The carrier is waiting for the Thai cabinet to approve a plan for around 22-23 new aircraft, of which two third will be widebodies and one third narrowbodies.

Thai continues work to build its hub traffic at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, bringing Thai and 100%-owned unit Thai Smile closer together. Chantalitanon says that there are no plans to do away with the Thai Smile brand.

“We are working on integrating the network to make sure Thai Smile can support Thai, and vice versa. Yes, some of the domestic routes have been transferred to Thai Smile, so they need to fit into our long-haul routes as well. We are looking at the next level.”

Chantalitanon made the remarks in an interview with FlightGlobal at the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) Assembly of Presidents, which was held recently on the resort island of Jeju, South Korea.

He adds that Thai has no plans to inject capital in low-cost carrier Nok Air, in which it owns a 21.57% stake, as its waiting to see how the carrier’s new management team lines up. Still, the Bangkok Don Mueang-based Nok has a role in Thai’s overall strategy.

“It is important that we keep both the Nok and Thai Smile brands as part of one network airline strategy. Thai Smile supports us at Suvarnabhumi for domestic destinations, and within the region. Nok is our fighting brand at Don Mueang, and it has an extensive primary and secondary network within Thailand. It's important that we integrate all three networks into one, and work together to bring out the best synergy for the Thai group of airlines.”

He adds that the regulatory environment has improved in Thailand in recent years. From early 2015 to late 2017, Thailand was under an ICAO red flag, when an audit raised several significant safety concerns about the country's oversight of carriers, particularly around its processes around awarding new air operator certificates. That led to the disbanding of the Department of Civil Aviation, and its replacement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT).

“Definitely improvements have been made with the local authorities.”

The country remains under FAA Category 2 status, which prevents Thailand carriers from launching USA services. Chantalitanon understands that the FAA will visit Thailand in early 2019, which would hopefully see Thailand regain Category 1 status by the middle of the year.

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