Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

Privately owned charter operator Orient Thai Airlines is to triple its fleet by purchasing four more Lockheed L-1011 TriStars. Delivery is due to start at the end of this year.

Managing director Udom Tantiprasongchai says plans are also being drawn up to acquire two aircraft - most likely Boeing 737s - for use by Cambodian carrier Kampuchea Airlines. Orient Thai holds a 40% stake in Kampuchea, with the rest held by private Cambodian investors.

Orient Thai operated L-1011 flights for Kampuchea until the Cambodian airline halted scheduled operations in 1999 because of Asia's financial crisis. Udom says he is looking to restart scheduled services in the fourth quarter.

"The [Cambodian] Government has been putting a lot of effort into tourism at Angkor Wat," he says. This makes nearby Siem Reap Airport an attractive destination. Kampuchea would "probably" base its new aircraft there, he adds.

Orient Thai operates two L-1011s and says it wants the additional aircraft to meet growing demand for charter flights. The carrier is considering two possible sources, but Udom says the TriStars will probably be ex-Caledonian Airways aircraft in long-term storage. The purchase is likely to cost over 600 million baht ($16 million), he says.

The additional 390-seat TriStars will allow the carrier more charter services into Europe and Asia. Two of the four new aircraft will be based in Europe and the other two in Asia - possibly outside Bangkok. "Malaysia could be a better choice," says Udom, who hopes to avoid friction with the Department of Aviation, which has turned down recent applications by Orient Thai to restart scheduled services.

"They see us as the number one enemy-as a rival to [state-owned] Thai Airways," says Udom. The airline is pushing for approval to operate to five cities in China.

Orient Thai is also in talks with grounded Thai carrier Angel Air over co-operation to restart the financially troubled airline's operations. Udom says this could involve leasing out aircraft to Angel, or acting as a consultant in rehabilitating the carrier.

Angel - which has struggled financially since it started as Thailand's second international carrier in 1998 - was forced to suspend operations in early June.

Source: Flight International