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Political turbulence delays Thai AirAsia X inaugural flight

THAI AIRASIA X, the country's first medium- and long-haul low-cost carrier, has delayed the launch of its inaugural flight from the current quarter to later this year, because the skies are not clear enough due to the ongoing political tension.

Tassapon Bijleveld, Thai AirAsia's CEO, acknowledged that the political cloud hanging over the country was the major factor behind the delay and said the first flight would take place once the country's politics returned to normal.

At present, Thai AirAsia X has only one Airbus A330-300 in its fleet, with a second due to be delivered next month. The aircraft will for the time being be used for charter-flight service to earn money to cover their operational costs.

AirAsia X is part of Malaysia-based low-cost giant AirAsia. Thai AirAsia X, meanwhile, was set up in Bangkok and Nadda Buranasiri, who has had a long career at Warner Music (Thailand), was recently chosen to be the first CEO.

The new carrier received its air operator's certificate from the Civil Aviation Department early this month. Tassapon declined to reveal which countries Thai AirAsia X would fly to, but said that in the early stages three destinations were being planned.

There have been media reports that the carrier will fly to two countries - South Korea and Japan - where there is high demand due to their being major destinations for Thai tourists.

The arrival of Thai AirAsia X has intensified the competition, but Tassapon said there was more room for growth in the low-cost market.

Clearly, Thailand is still a lucrative market, as other low-cost airlines such as VietJetAir and NokScoot will be launching operations here later this year.

NokScoot will fly to medium- and long-haul destinations, competing head-on with AirAsia X. The airline is a joint venture between Thailand's Nok Air and Scoot Airlines from Singapore.

Patee Sarasin, Nok Air's CEO, yesterday confirmed that NokScoot's inaugural flight would take place in the second half of this year.

Japan will be one of its focuses, as the country is in high demand among Thai travellers.

The first NokScoot flight to Tokyo is likely to take off from Don Mueang International Airport in October, he said.

Patee said he believed Thailand was still attractive among foreign tourists, despite the ongoing political chaos. Once the trouble ends, the country's tourism will rebound quickly, he suggested.

Meanwhile, Thai AirAsia, the country's biggest low-cost carrier, is still confident of carrying 13 million passengers this year, against 9.6 million in 2013, although the Kingdom is still mired in political tension.

Last year, the carrier's passenger target was 10 million, but it faced difficulty during the final quarter due to the political turbulence, resulting in a drop in passenger numbers, especially from China and Hong Kong. However, strong domestic performance helped offset the missing numbers, it said, with sales from the domestic market making up 55 per cent of the total.

This year, Thai AirAsia will see the delivery of eight new Airbus A320s, increasing its fleet to 43 aircraft. The company will use the new A320s to increase its existing routes, and also to add five or six routes, both at home and regionally.

For the current quarter, the carrier projects a passenger-load factor of 84 per cent, against 86 per cent in the same period last year.

To maintain performance, the airline has put a major effort into promoting routes starting in secondary provinces in the Kingdom, in order to avoid protest-hit Bangkok. The strategy has helped reduce congestion, as well.

The promotional push includes flights from Chiang Mai to Hangzhou, Hong Kong and to Macau, for example.


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