Thai AirAsia prepares to launch Phuket-Wuhan service
Thai AirAsia (TAA) is kicking off the year with a new route linking Thailand and China, a country-pair which appears to offer high traffic potential.
The no-frills carrier will inaugurate a non-stop daily service between the resort island of Phuket and Wuhan in central China on Feb 1.
It is the latest of several Thailand-China routes that TAA has launched since the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) red-flagged Thailand's aviation safety deficiencies in June last year.
Santisuk Klongchaiya, commercial director at TAA, said the airline had not been affected by the ICAO red flag in terms of applying for new Chinese routes.
Permission to operate Phuket-Wuhan flights underscores that Beijing is using its own judgement on the matter rather than following the blanket guidelines put out by the global aviation auditing agency.
The thumbs-down from both the ICAO and more recently the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were for the now-defunct Department of Civil Aviation's safety standard deficiencies rather than the airlines themselves -- a distinction that Chinese aviation authorities are aware of.
The ICAO's red-flagging and the FAA's downgrade are intended to mean that Thai-registered airlines are not allowed to open new routes, raise the frequencies of existing flights to foreign countries or change aircraft types already deployed on services.
Only a small number of countries including Japan have strictly complied with the restrictions.
Prior to the announcement of the Phuket-Wuhan service in the post-red flag period, TAA launched regular flights from Macau from the navy-operated U-tapao airport in Rayong in November last year.
It also started services from the same airport to Nanning and Nanchang in China in September.
Mr Santisuk said travel demand between Thailand and China, especially for leisure, had been growing robustly, with Chinese arrivals in the first 11 months of last year topping 7.3 million.
Phuket is one of the leading destinations for Chinese travellers to Thailand due to its many attractions, so the new service from Wuhan will cash in on traffic opportunities.
The route also brings about new trade and investment opportunities as Wuhan is a hub for commerce in China, Mr Santisuk said.
Wuhan will be the second Chinese city after Hong Kong linked with Phuket by TAA with a daily service.
Mr Santisuk said TAA would continue to pursue establishing more connections with China, where it has operated 11 routes.
The launch of the Phuket-Wuhan route is also timed to coincide with the start of the Chinese New Year holidays when many Chinese travel abroad for holidays, thus ensuring a successful start for the route.