Nok Air laments dearth of passengers

Nok Air laments dearth of passengers

A handful of travellers walk through Don Mueang airport on Nov 23 following the country's reopening to fully vaccinated tourists on Nov 1. (Reuters photo)
A handful of travellers walk through Don Mueang airport on Nov 23 following the country's reopening to fully vaccinated tourists on Nov 1. (Reuters photo)

Air passenger traffic after Thailand's reopening on Nov 1 has not lived up to operators' expectations as demand from foreign tourists has been lukewarm, says Nok Air.

"The airline rehired workers and resumed operations nationwide, but passengers and revenue are not even at 40% of 2019 levels," said Nok Air chief executive Wutthiphum Jurangkool.

He said the airline's international passengers at Don Mueang airport in November were less than 1% of the pre-pandemic total. Some tourists booked cross-regional flights from Phuket to Chiang Mai, but demand remains soft.

The number of domestic passengers also pales in comparison with the same period last year, despite the stimulus programme We Travel Together.

Nok Air had 80 flights per day in November last year, but frequencies have dropped to 60 flights recently, even though the load factor last month increased to 83% from 70% in 2020.

Based on the slow recovery, Mr Wutthiphum said the airline must accelerate a plan to secure a 280-million-baht loan by the first quarter of next year to support cash flow.

The airline must wait for the government's approval to add six new Boeing 737-800 jets.

By the end of this year, Nok Air expects to operate 19 aircraft. Three Q400 jets will be taken out of operation to restructure its fleet and pave the way for six new aircraft, he said.

Mr Wutthiphum said the airline's revenue might fully recover in two years if tourists from mainland China are allowed to take overseas trips by next October and the airline can secure new aircraft as planned.

It will also have to assess the impact from the Covid-19 Omicron variant globally, he said.

In terms of its debt rehabilitation plan, Mr Wutthiphum said after the Central Bankruptcy Court approved the plan on Sept 29, creditors who are passengers and former staff received payments from the airline in November. The number of creditors is now less than 100, he said.

Mr Wutthiphum said Nok Air aims to resume international flights to Japan (Osaka), India (Hyderabad) and Taiwan by next April. Routes to regional countries such as Vietnam might resume earlier, if there is enough demand and more relaxed travel rules, he said.

A new domestic route -- Nakhon Ratchasima to Chiang Mai -- is set to launch in April, followed by Nakhon Ratchasima to Surat Thani, Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket at the end of 2022.

Mr Wutthiphum said Nakhon Ratchasima has less competition because it has a short runway, for which only two airlines have compatible aircraft. He said there is demand from this city, but the government should subsidise operational costs to let airlines add more flights from this destination.

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