Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thai AirAsia builds Phuket's international potential

14 October 2009

PHUKET : Thai AirAsia intends to open more routes connecting Phuket directly with other Asian cities as it moves aggressively to develop its second hub on the southern resort island.

The no-frills carrier wants to link Phuket with Bali, Surabaya, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Manila through non-stop services as new city-pairs after the first links due to open in mid-November.

Chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld said the airline was upbeat about the growth opportunities Phuket could provide in addition to its main hub at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Thai AirAsia is preparing to begin daily services on the Phuket-Hong Kong and Phuket-Jakarta routes on Nov 15, followed by flights from Phuket to Chiang Mai, Medan in Indonesia and Ho Chi Minh City in December.

Pending positive results, Mr Tassapon said the second set of direct air links with Asian cities could open in 18 months

"We need three or four months to prove that our decision to make Phuket our second hub is right commercially before we make further stride," he said.

"We could easily fly in 2,000 tourists a day from those foreign cities to Phuket, ramping up from 600 people a day initially we expect from the first batch of cities."

That means Thai AirAsia would need to base four A320 jetliners at Phuket to accommodate the direct connections, up from the two that it will station there in the next one or two months.

The sister carrier of Malaysia-based AirAsia, Asia's largest budget carrier, is also looking at other airports in Thailand including Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and U-tapao as potential hubs for new flight markets.

Chiang Mai is the most likely candidate for a third hub but Mr Tassapon stressed that the bulk of Thai AirAsia's services would continue through Suvarnabhumi.

"The problem is that we cannot open as many new routes through Suvarnabhumi as we wanted to as the network through Bangkok has thickened already," he explained, adding that the airline's fleet had also been growing and needed new routes to match it.

The airline now operates a fleet of ten Airbus A320s and six Boeing B737- 300s. Over the next two months it will take delivery of two new A320s. Next year it will receive eight more A320s and retire its six B737-300s, giving it a fleet of 20 aircraft, all A320s.

Mr Tassapon believes that its initial flights through Phuket will be 80% full, due largely to the high-season factor and heavy promotions.

"Phuket is a probably the second most well-known Thai city internationally, so that helps a lot to sell our flights," he said.

The airline has already sold more than 20,000 Phuket-Hong Kong tickets since they went on sale on Oct 5.

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