New aircraft kick off Thai Lion Air's long-haul flight expansion
The first of Thai Lion Air's (TLA) three Airbus wide-body jets arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday to herald its new strategy -- entry into medium- to long-haul flight services.
The arrival of the A330-300, flown straight from Airbus' Toulouse facility, spotlighted TLA's aggressive growth plan that was rolled out a few months ago.
TLA is due to take delivery of two other new A330-300s next month, strengthening its fleet of narrow-body aircraft comprising 27 Boeing 737-800s and 737-900ERs.
Aswin Yangkirativorn, chief executive of the budget airline subsidiary of Indonesia's Lion Group, reaffirmed the company's intention to add at least five new B737 MAXs to TLA's fleet next year.
TLA will initially deploy its first A330-300 on heavy-traffic Thai domestic routes to cities like Phuket and Chiang Mai on route-proving missions as required by authorities, perhaps starting as early as next month.
Mr Aswin told the Bangkok Post the airline expects to start flying its new A330-300s internationally in the first quarter of next year with Phuket-Shanghai, currently being served by TLA on a charter basis with B737 aircraft, being the first route on a regular basis.
The mission of the A330-300s will be largely to strengthen TLA's Chinese footprint, especially on the cities more distant from Thailand.
In line with such pursuits, on Nov 10 TLA converted its three Chinese routes -- Hangzhou, Shanghai and Xian -- to regular scheduled operations from a charter basis.
The debut of regular A330-300s services to Japan's Narita and South Korea's Incheon is also most likely to take place sometime next year, subject to regulatory approval.
"We are aware that there are so many players on the Japanese and South Korean markets and competition is fierce, but we believe there is a room for us to fit in with value proposition," he said.
TLA is the latest among major Thai-registered airlines that recently confirmed their expansion plans following the October removal of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's red flag.
The red flag, placed by on Thai civil aviation authority for "significant safety concerns" in June 2015, had restricted international flight expansion by Thai-registered carriers.
TLA's first twin-engine A330-300, with Indonesian batik covered its tail fin entirely, is configured with 392 seats in two cabin classes, compared to a single-class in its B737, with seating ranges from 215 in the B737-900ER version and 189 in B737-800.
There are 18 flat-lying seats in premium economy class onboard TLA's A330-300s and 374 in economy class.
The wide-body aircraft comes with a back-seat in-flight entertainment system offering blockbuster movies in all seats, which is unique for a low-cost carrier.
TLA executives indicated earlier more A330-300s will join the airline's fleet in the future as Lion Group shifts these aircraft originally earmarked for other subsidiary airlines to Thailand.