Thai Lion Air spreads wings at home, in region
Myanmar, Vietnam, China on radar screen
Thai Lion Air (TLA) is going full steam ahead with its expansion, undeterred by lingering concerns over Thailand's aviation safety expressed by some countries.
The no-frills subsidiary of Indonesia's Lion Air Group is zeroing in on spreading its wings internationally and enlarging its domestic network.
Myanmar, Vietnam and China are on TLA's radar screen for launch this year with a resumption of flights to Indonesia from its Bangkok base forming part of the international expansion, said TLA chief executive Aswin Yangkirativorn.
Domestically, the airline, now in its third year of operation, plans to add Trang, Khon Kaen and Phitsanulok while considering connecting Hat Yai with Chiang Mai.
The route expansion is consistent with TLA's increased aircraft capacity as five more jets, a combination of Boeing B737-900ERs and 737-800s, are due to join the fleet this year.
Of all the new routes, regular services from TLA's Don Mueang airport base in Bangkok to the Thai southern province of Trang and Jakarta will see a more definite timing for a launch next month.
That would be followed by an inaugural flight to Yangon from Don Mueang in May.
The debut of Vietnamese services, from Don Mueang separately to Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, could commence in the third quarter of this year.
Also lining up for a possible third-quarter launch are regular flights to Beijing, from both Don Mueang and Chiang Mai.
The airline is keen to serve Japan and has sought Japanese authorities' approval for a Bangkok-Fukuoka route.
But Mr Aswin recognised that the planned launch of Fukuoka, or any other destinations in Japan, will not be possible until Thai authorities resolve issues related to aviation safety deficiencies raised by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Japan is one of the small number of countries that have strictly complied with the ICAO restrictions on Thailand-registered airlines.
The red-flagging by ICAO and subsequently by the US Federal Aviation Administration means that Thailand-registered airlines are not allowed to open new routes, raise the frequencies of existing flights to foreign countries or change the types of aircraft already deployed on services.
But those restrictions were for the now-defunct Department of Civil Aviation's safety deficiencies rather than the airlines themselves -- a distinction that aviation authorities are cognisant of.
That explains why countries such as China continue to allow Thai-registered airlines to introduce new routes to its territory.
The frequencies and commencement dates for the routes planned in 2016 are still being worked out, pending final approval from civil authorities involved as well as the airport time-slot arrangements.
However, TLA's Bangkok-Jakarta route, suspended in 2014 as Thai political turmoil affected travel demand, would see a minimum of one flight a day.
TLA currently operates 10 domestic routes, nine of which go from Don Mueang, and one international service, Bangkok to Singapore.