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THAI unfazed by superjumbo's high costs

Despite its quieter takeoffs and landings, higher passenger capacity, lower carbon-dioxide emissions and other advantages over other aircraft, Thai Airways International accepts that its new Airbus A380-800, the largest plane in its fleet, has higher maintenance costs.

For example, a single wheel costs Bt3 million. The company changed two wheels a few weeks ago after 100 flights. Maintaining the digital operating system is also expensive.

However, these expenses will be compensated for by the superjumbo's ability to carry more passengers than any other aircraft, THAI believes.

Captain Peerasak Nopananchai, chief pilot of the A380, said that as it is the largest airliner in the world, costs for parts and services are also higher. In addition, its operating system ensures safety during takeoff, landing and flying.

"It is impossible to have an unmanned plane for commercial flight, as security is still the most important, but the number of pilots needed to control it could be reduced in the future," Peerasak said.

He said the greater size of the aircraft obliged the company to increase the size of the cabin crew and related factors. The number of flight attendants has been increased to 24 to ensure services on the A380-800, compared with 18 attendants on the Boeing 747-400.

The company's first A380-800 had its first commercial flight on October 6 to Hong Kong and Singapore. Its maximum capacity is 507 passengers, compared with 389 for the Boeing 747-400.

With such a large passenger capacity, it may create longer queues than normal at immigration counters after landing. But the upside is higher efficiency and lower impact on the environment per passenger.

Nonthakorn Trakulpa, THAI general manager for Hong Kong and Macau, said the airline's cabin factor reached 85 per cent in October but would drop to 73 per cent this month and 66 per cent next month, according to bookings. This is because passengers make decisions two weeks prior booking ticket so that the capacity rate rises closer to the date of takeoff.

The company operates five return flights per day on the Bangkok-Hong Kong route. The A380's high passenger capacity has resulted in higher costs for cleaning between flights because it is restricted to one hour in the parking bay in Hong Kong. If it is parked longer, the airline is hit with an extra charge.

"We are considering ways to reduce costs and cope with the time restriction, as we have to make a decision whether to cease using the A380 on this flight or extend it to April, when passenger numbers rise during the long holiday," Nonthakorn said. THAI also plans to use the superjumbo to service other destinations, she added.

The airline has purchased six A380-800s. The second aircraft will arrive in Thailand this month, the third in December, the fourth in February, the fifth next October and the final one in November next year. The superjumbo fleet will be operated on intercontinental routes.

Upon delivery of the second aircraft, the two A380s will operate on the Bangkok-Frankfurt and Bangkok-Hong Kong routes approximately through to the middle of next month. The third aircraft will be utilised on flights to and from Narita. The fourth is expected to operate between Bangkok and Paris.

Peerasak said the company had to prepare 120 pilots and co-pilots to serve the new superjumbo fleet. They are trained for one year by Airbus in Toulouse, France, and will be specially licensed to fly a digitally equipped aircraft. They will have to be audited after flying for 10 sectors.


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