Thai AirAsia seeks to ramp up flights to Laos
VIENTIANE: Fresh after inaugurating its long-awaited service to Vientiane last Friday, Thai AirAsia (TAA) is seeking to boost the frequency of its flights and establish more connectivity between Thailand and Laos.
Thailand's biggest low-cost carrier has sought permission from Laotian authorities for a second daily flight from Bangkok to both Vientiane and Luang Prabang, where service was launched on March 24.
Upbeat about traffic demand, TAA is also looking to establish new air links from Vientiane and Luang Prabang with other Thai cities beyond Bangkok, such as Phuket.
TAA chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld revealed the airline's strategic plan for the landlocked state, voicing confidence about air travel demand between the two countries.
TAA was given a green light to fly the socialist state's restricted skies after pursuing the matter for eight years. In part, Laotian authorities have appeared to soften to the idea that LCCs can spur much needed tourism in a country hungry for foreign exchange.
The move further reflects the reality that protection for the flag carrier flying the route, Lao Airlines, as well as privately-owned Lao Central Airlines, is no longer a given.
Less than three months after initiating the Bangkok-Luang Prabang route, TAA has registered a relatively high load factor of nearly 80% -- a rate which Mr Tassapon described as satisfactory.
Laos became the last place to be covered by TAA in a subregional league that also includes Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Mr Tassapon said there are no other Laotian cities which are currently viable destinations to add to TAA's flight network.
Low fares have been TAA's primary selling point in Laos, charging 2,000 baht for a one-way Bangkok-Vientiane flight, compared to 6,000-7,000 baht charged by full-service operators on the same route, such as Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways.
The TAA chief said the majority of passengers on the Bangkok-Vientiane route would be business travellers, while TAA's Bangkok-Luang Prabang flights are mostly frequented by individual travellers.
Foreign arrivals to Laos last year were projected by the country's Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to have grown by about 4% from 2014 to 4.3 million -- the bulk of whom were Thais.
Meanwhile, Mr Tassapon said that TAA's aspiration to establish a pan-Asean network would stop short at Brunei and the Philippines.
There is no sufficient traffic demand for connecting Thailand with Brunei and TAA would only be interested in flying to the Philippines if TAA is given permission to operate at the heavily-congested Manila airport, which has been restricted due to a lack of time slots, he said.