With visa-free travel to popular destinations such as Japan and China, Thai AirAsia is planning to ramp up flights to those countries to cater to strong demand, including offering a new route to Okinawa.
Santisuk Klongchaiya, chief executive of Thai AirAsia and SET-listed Asia Aviation (AAV), said both nations can expect an increase of Thai passengers as they are planning budgets for overseas trips.
As of the fourth quarter of 2023, Thai AirAsia operated 77 flights per week to 11 destinations in China, and seven flights per week to one city in Japan -- Fukuoka.
Mr Santisuk said after the visa-free scheme is enacted with China, independent Thai tourists visiting the mainland should surge. The airline expects the proportion of Thai passengers to rise to 30% per flight, up from 10% prior to the visa-free policy for Thais.
There is potential for Thai AirAsia to increase flights to other major cities apart from Shanghai, which the airline serves with five flights per week at the moment, he said.
During the Chinese New Year holiday, Thai AirAsia secured a 100% load factor for most flights connecting with China, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, said Mr Santisuk.
He said the visa exemption for China would not affect demand for Japan as it remains a favourite location for Thai tourists, particularly among travellers going overseas for the first time.
The airline plans to capitalise on persistent demand for Japan by opening a new route from Don Mueang airport to Okinawa, starting from April 2 with four flights per week. The Okinawa route is projected to secure a load factor of at least 80-85%, said Mr Santisuk.
Roughly 90% of passengers are anticipated to be outbound from Thailand, he said.
"Thai AirAsia might increase the number of flights to Fukuoka from daily to 10 flights per week this year based on strong demand for Japan," said Mr Santisuk.
The airline plans to have six new jets by year-end, comprising both Airbus 320 and 321neo. It wants to carry 21 million passengers this year with an 88% average load factor, increasing from 18.8 million passengers in 2023.