Bangkok-based carrier to acquire widebodies and narrowbodies after winning rights to serve five Chinese cities

Orient Thai is preparing to add five widebodies to its fleet and acquire its first narrowbodies in the next few months after winning rights to new destinations.

The Bangkok-based airline will acquire two more Boeing 747-200s this year through a lease-purchase, plus two or three more LockheedL-1011 TriStars in March sourced from Delta, says Orient Thai chief executive and managing director Udom Tantiprasongchai.

The airline has just won permission to fly to five key cities in China. Shanghai will be served five times a week and Guangzhou three times a week from April, says Udom. Beijing, Chengdu and Kunming will be served using two 757-200s that are due for delivery in April. Lessors are now vying for the lease-purchase deal.

Orient currently uses four 747-200s and one L-1011 to fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong nine times a week, Incheon five times a week and Singapore returning via Kuala Lumpur daily.

Chinese tourists will touch down in the Maldives on twice-weekly flights Orient is starting in April. Package tourism is the key market targeted by Orient Thai.

Udom sees China as a vast untapped market. He hopes to add more Chinese cities in 2004 and expects charter flights to increase.

From mid-2003, Orient should be connecting Bangkok with Paris five times a week. Udom prefers Paris to London because it has better connections to Africa and is served by many airlines that are not members of the major alliances.

Sapporo and Tokyo, Japan, will be added to the network this year.

Up to six Boeing MD-80s could join Orient Thai's fleet this year to run a domestic shuttle network between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Phuket, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani.

Internet booking will be offered, primarily to serve corporate travellers and foreign tourists stepping off long-haul flights.

Udom is certain that 2003 will be the last chance to acquire the aircraft at rock-bottom prices and increase the airline's margins in what he describes as a high-yield market.

With Orient's expansion, Kampuchea Air, Udom's charter business, has been cut back and is left with only one L-1011.

Source: Flight International