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AirAsia flies out of Don Mueang without a hitch

Don Mueang International Airport started buzzing from 3am yesterday as its first flight of the day, AirAsia's FD3677, took off for Denpasar, Bali, on the dot of 6.15am as scheduled. All the ground staff, especially Thai AirAsia chief executive officer Tassapon Bijleveld, were delighted by the smooth takeoff.

Taking off smoothly and on time is common in the aviation industry, but for AirAsia this one was very meaningful, because yesterday was the first day for the low-cost airline to relocate its operations from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The airline and Airports of Thailand spared no costs in keeping passengers in Terminal 1 entertained. AirAsia organised fashion shows and AOT paid for concerts. Their joint efforts were obviously meant to prove that the old airport was back in action.

Terminal 1 was full of people, as passengers, media personnel and guests jostled for a part of the action. In fact, an airport guard said he had never seen the facility this busy before.

And though there was a bit of a traffic jam getting to the departure building at 6am, passengers were not disappointed by how smoothly everything went.

Passenger Wichai Lhaoprapatsorn said he had no problems with the airline's relocation. He was taking a connecting flight to Yangon from Chiang Rai. However, he did voice concerns about having to take connecting flights with other airlines that fly out of Suvarnabhumi. He said Don Mueang should offer free transport to Bangkok's main international airport.

Things did not go too smoothly for everybody, however, as five foreigners ended up missing their flight. They had probably not heard about the relocation, though AirAsia staff have been going out of their way to inform people.

Meanwhile, Tassapon said Don Mueang's preparation was acceptable with the exception of some lighting problems, unclear signage and ground transport. He said he would inform AOT about these problems and hope the authority finds solutions within a week.

AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes was also present at the airport yesterday and said this relocation was a crucial step for Thailand to become a low-cost-carrier hub in the region. He added that cutting down the international passenger service charge would certainly help. He cited Malaysia, which only charges passengers Bt300.

Tassapon added that moving to Don Mueang was also beneficial for AirAsia because this airport was closer to downtown Bangkok. Hence, he said, the airline expected the number of its domestic passengers to increase by 5 per cent. Its current load factor for domestic flights is between 82 and 85 per cent.

Thai AirAsia operates about 160 flights daily, of which 45 are international. Next year, its daily flights should hit 200 and the airline hopes to generate at least Bt20 billion in sales revenue.

Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin welcomed AirAsia to Don Mueang, saying its presence would change the dynamics of the airport. He said this market had more room for growth, especially since competition has intensified.

Currently, Nok Air operates 89 flights out of Don Mueang and its average load factor is 85 per cent. In the first quarter of next year, the firm plans to fly to four or five cities in China because of high demand. The airline already operates three charter flights per week to Nanjing.

Nok Air is also planning to get listed in the Stock Exchange of Thailand, aiming to spend the funds raised on expanding its fleet. It has about 11 planes at present and hopes to boost that number to 20 by next year.

It is aiming for profits worth more than Bt500 million by the end of this year, which shows a vast improvement from the Bt198 million it projected early this year. He said the airline had recorded profits worth Bt400 million so far this year.


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