Thai AirAsia X to add routes in 2018
Thai AirAsia X (TAAX) looks set to spread its wings boldly next year as restrictions imposed by the global aviation audit agency since mid-2015 are expected to be removed.
The country's first long-haul low-cost carrier (LCC) will then begin to add three to four new Airbus A330-300 jets and inaugurate regular flights to Eastern Europe, also ramping up its existing services to Japan and South Korea.
This would be a major upgrade for TAAX, whose expansion plan was mothballed for two years as a result of the red flag placed on Thailand's aviation safety by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The red flag forbid Thai-registered airlines from launching new routes to foreign countries or changing the aircraft types rather than those already in service on existing routes.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has spent the past two years addressing the "significant safety concerns" raised by ICAO, which is expected to remove the red flag in October this year, if not sooner.
ICAO is due to conduct an audit on CAAT, the agency upon which the safety deficiency was levelled, rather than airlines, on Sept 3.
"We are readying our growth plan once the red flag issue is over," TAAX director and founder Tassapon Bijleveld told the Bangkok Post.
After the red flag is removed and clearance is secured from the European Aviation Safety Agency, TAAX will commence regular services from its Bangkok base at Don Mueang airport to Eastern Europe.
He did not specify the countries in the region which TAAX plans to serve, but cited Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Croatia and Hungary as possibilities. Mr Tassapon described Eastern Europe as not too competitive with high market potential.
"We are not looking at major European cities like London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Paris, which are highly competitive with little chance of making money," he said. "Realistically, embarking on Eastern European flights would take six months," meaning services could begin the second half of next year.
TAAX also intends to boost frequencies on its existing routes to Japan's Narita and Osaka, and Incheon in South Korea. It also wants to resume its short-lived regular service to Sapporo.