Thai Lion uncages jets at Don Mueang ceremony
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Thai Lion uncages jets at Don Mueang ceremony

Thai Lion Air (TLA) yesterday unveiled its first two brand-new B737-900ER aircraft, staff and other support to show its readiness to join Thailand's highly contested budget airline industry.

A Thai cabin attendant in a ‘kebaya’ welcomes guests at the unveiling of TLA’s new aircraft at Don Mueang airport. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

With the two single-aisle jets parked at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport and the granting of an air operator certificate due shortly by the Civil Aviation Department, the subsidiary of Indonesia's giant airline group Lion Air is on course to start flying next month.

TLA chief executive Darsito Hendroseputro yesterday confirmed the airline's launch plan, starting with routes linking Don Mueang with Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Chiang Mai.

Next year, the no-frills airline will expand its network to connect Bangkok with Singapore, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Delhi and Mumbai.

Domestically, it will cover other destinations next year including Hat Yai and Phuket.

TLA plans to add about 10 new B737-900ERs each year to its fleet.

It has also set its sights on broadening its services beyond the core short-haul sector (up to four hours) to cover medium-haul destinations such as South Korea and Japan.

Medium-haul service will be operated by state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner wide-body jets starting in 2016, when the parent carrier Lion Air starts taking delivery of such aircraft.

Lion Air will allocate several of the 15 Boeing 787-8s it has ordered from the US plane maker to TLA, Mr Hendroseputro said.

TLA's strategy appear to compete head on with AirAsia Group in Thailand with a stringent low-cost carrier (LCC) model that emphasises low fares and limited services as well as a combination of domestic and international service on short- and medium-haul flights.

Thai AirAsia (TAA) has been operating on domestic and short-haul regional routes for 10 years and will start medium-haul operations such as flights from Don Mueang to South Korea and Japan early next year through Thai AirAsia X.

Mr Hendroseputro said TLA will offer fares lower than those of other LCCs on a long-term, consistent basis rather than the periodic strategy that has been deployed by rivals.

With the fuel-efficient B737-900ER and its seating capacity of 215, TLA has an edge that allows it to offer lower fares, he said.

TAA operates the 180-seat Airbus 320-200, while the recently established Thai AirAsia X plans to deploy the Airbus 330 wide-body jet, which is less advanced and more fuel-thirsty than TLA's B787s.

Mr Hendroseputro said TLA may adopt a hybrid model for its medium-haul flights, meaning certain offerings could be provided to passengers rather than the stripped-down service that is the hallmark of LCCs.

TLA's current staffing includes 50 female cabin attendants, all Thai with previous experience, and 18 cockpit staff, roughly equally split between Thais and Malaysians.

On paper, TLA is 49% owned by Lion Air and 51% by a couple of unnamed Thai travel-related firms, with initial registered capital of 200 million baht.

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