Thai AirAsia dusts off idled jets to serve China

Thai AirAsia dusts off idled jets to serve China

CEO sees 'strong earnings momentum' as advance bookings start picking up

Thai AirAsia jets are parked at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok. (Bangkok Post File Photo)
Thai AirAsia jets are parked at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok. (Bangkok Post File Photo)

The budget carrier Thai AirAsia plans to resume operating eight aircraft that were idled during the pandemic and is considering shifting planes from other areas to cater to the growing number of visitors from China.

SET-listed Asia Aviation Plc, the operator of the country’s biggest low-cost airline, also expects improved earnings growth with the resumption of more flights to Chinese cities, chief executive officer Santisuk Klongchaiya said during an interview in Bangkok on Thursday.

“Our advance bookings have demonstrated strong earnings momentum,” Mr Santisuk said. “We may find a big challenge to expand seat capacity with demand from Chinese travellers. But seat shortages are a problem we’re happy to deal with.” 

Thai AirAsia currently has 53 jets in its fleet, he said.

The carrier joins peers including Thai Airways International in scrambling to right-size their fleets to cater for a jump in tourists from China, which now allows people to come and go freely without quarantine.

The country welcomed 11.2 million foreign tourists in 2022, the highest number since Covid emerged in early 2020, and expects seven to 10 million Chinese travellers to arrive by air this year, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said last month.

Asia Aviation, 43% owned by Malaysia’s AirAsia Group, posted a record quarterly loss of 4.72 billion baht in the three months through June 30 last year, according to the company’s website.

While the local tourism market is recovering, there’s still a long way to go to reach the 40 million foreign arrivals seen in 2019.

And Thai AirAsia is facing some slowdown in demand from travellers from India, whose government has reintroduced mandatory Covid tests for people coming from a number of Asian nations, including Thailand. The high cost of jet fuel will also weigh on earnings, Mr Santisuk said.

In February, Thai AirAsia plans to increase the number of flights to Chinese cities from two a week to seven, he added.

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