Phuket: Turkish Airlines is keen to ramp up its new Istanbul-Phuket flights to a daily basis from four flights a week.
But that possibility hinges on more favourable landing and take-off slots at Phuket airport.
Chief executive Bilal Eksi told the Bangkok Post yesterday that the carrier is prepared to go daily on the route next year if such changes are allowed soon.
The current schedules are inconvenient for transferring passengers from Turkish's global network, especially those travelling from Europe via Istanbul.
Flight TK172 leaves Istanbul at 2.30pm and arrives in Phuket at 4am, with TK173 leaving Phuket at 5.30am and landing in Istanbul at noon.
"If we could land here in Phuket two hours later than the current timing, that would greatly facilitate our transfer of passengers to here," Mr Eksi said.
He said Airports of Thailand Plc, which runs Phuket and other key airports in Thailand, was receptive to Turkish's request for improved time slots that would allow the airline to ferry more tourists to the southern resort island.
Flight-slot constraints at heavily congested Phuket airport forced Turkish to accept the current time slots in the first place; otherwise, the Istanbul-Phuket launch would have been impossible.
But despite the drawbacks, Turkish has received an enthusiastic market response for the Istanbul-Phuket flights, the first of which landed here yesterday morning.
Mr Eksi said the average load factor over the next two months is seen at more than 70%, which represents "very good numbers".
In fact, travel demand on Istanbul-Phuket is so strong that Turkish decided to deploy the larger Boeing 777-300ER instead of the Airbus A330-300 as originally planned.
The 777-300ER is configured with 49 seats in business class and 300 in economy, compared with 28 in business class and 261 in economy for the A330-300.
On the maiden flight yesterday, there were 315 adult passengers and three infants.
The traffic on Turkish's Istanbul-Phuket route is mostly for leisure, reflecting the island's character as a popular tourist destination, said Mr Eksi, who last year succeeded Temel Kotil after the latter resigned his post to become head of Turkish Aerospace Industries.
Phuket is the 300th destination of Turkish Airlines, which serves 120 countries around the world.
Turkish began flying to Bangkok from Istanbul in 1989 and last year carried 324,521 passengers between Bangkok and Istanbul with two daily non-stop flights, according to airline officials.
The carrier operates A330-300 and A300-200 wide-body jets on the Istanbul-Bangkok pair.
Mr Eksi said the airline is always looking at the possibility of ramping up flights and capacity on the core Istanbul-Bangkok service, as well as considering other Thai cities to serve.
A senior official of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said yesterday that Turkish's Istanbul-Phuket flights are expected to boost overall Turkish arrivals to Thailand to 100,000 in the next two years from about 75,000 last year.