Thai Airways International is considering purchasing the Airbus Industrie A340, or additional McDonnell Douglas (MDC) MD-11 tri-jets to meet its requirement for new long-range aircraft for use on thin routes.

The aircraft are needed to replace larger Boeing 747-400s on existing under-utilised routes to Europe, requiring less than 300 seats per flight. Thai's long, thin, European destinations include Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Zurich.

Thai is understood to have ruled out the Boeing 777-200B, despite having already ordered 14 of the -200A and stretched -300 variants for use on its shorter regional routes. According to a senior airline source, the carrier is reluctant to use a twin-engine aircraft on long-haul flights until the type has gained wider acceptance.

Purchase of either the A340 or more MD-11s has been made conditional on Airbus or MDC meeting certain conditions, including the disposal of existing equipment. Any purchase of the A340 would mean withdrawal of Thai's four MD-11s from service and Airbus having to help sell the aircraft. Alternatively, standardising around a larger fleet of MD-11s would require MDC finding a buyer for the carrier's three DC-10s.

Thai's longer-term aim is to rationalise its fleet around just five aircraft types and phase out its 11 A300B4s, eight 747-200/300s and DC-10-30ERs. The carrier also operates eight 747-400s, with a further four on order, and six A330s with two more to follow.

No decision is expected until a chairman is appointed to replace Amaret Sila-On, who resigned after a new Government was elected. First vice-chairman Siripong Thongyai is tipped to succeed him.

Siripong, however, is also chief of the Thai air force and his appointment would reverse recent efforts, to move control of the national airline away from the military. Other candidates include transport permanent secretary Mahidol Chantrangkun.

Source: Flight International