Bangkok Airways revives China routes
Bangkok Airways is re-entering the huge China market that it left seven years ago when several airlines had to pare their networks due to the global financial crisis.
But the SET-listed full-service airline will return to different Chinese cities from a different airport as it attempts to develop new routes.
The 48-year-old airline has sought permission from Chinese authorities to operate regular non-stop flights to Chengdu, Chongqing and Guangzhou from its airport on the southern resort island of Koh Samui.
The airline ceased its twice-weekly Bangkok-Xian services and four-times-weekly Bangkok-Guilin operation in 2009, completely ending its connection with the mainland.
It also terminated its daily Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City and twice-weekly Bangkok-Hiroshima services about the same time.
Bangkok Airways has just won the green light from the Chinese authorities to start Samui-Chengdu services four times per week in the middle of next month with an Airbus 319 jetliner.
It is awaiting Chinese regulatory approval for Samui-Chongqing and Samui-Guangzhou flights, which the airline expects to launch by year-end with A319 or A320 aircraft.
Bangkok Airways intends to offer three flights per week to Chongqing and a daily service to Guangzhou.
President Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth told the Bangkok Post that the airline opted to relaunch its Chinese services from Samui rather than Bangkok to avoid intense competition originating from the capital to those destinations.
The skies between Bangkok and those Chinese cities are swamped by legacy and low-cost carriers from China and Thailand.
Capt Puttipong said Samui was starting to get attention from Chinese tourists as an alternative to popular destinations such as Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi.
"We hope to develop new traffic from western Chinese regions that are remote from the sea," he said.
Once a day on average, a charter flight -- an A319 or A320 with around 140 seats -- descends to Samui from southern China.
These flights are operated by the likes of Lucky Air and Beijing Capital Airlines, a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines.
Thai-registered charter airline New Gen operates flights from China to Surat Thani airport, from where Chinese tourists can travel by bus and ferry to Samui.
"We are providing an alternative to those Chinese charter operators as well as generating new demand," Capt Puttipong said.
By working closely with a well-known Chinese travel agent with an extensive network, Bangkok Airways has been assured of a high load factor on its Samui-Chengdu service, he added.
Capt Puttipong said the airline will need to assess the feedback from the three Samui-China routes before initiating greater coverage of the China market.