TAAX mulls expansion to Tehran, Muscat
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TAAX mulls expansion to Tehran, Muscat

Tehran and Muscat are looming large on the radar screen of Thai AirAsia X (TAAX) for its first foray into new markets.

The inauguration of regular services to the two cities by Thailand's first long-haul low-cost carrier could take place in August, following a planned launch announcement later this month.

Industry executives familiar with the issue said TAAX planned to offer four flights a week from its base in Bangkok's Don Mueang airport to the Iranian capital.

The airline would also operate three flights a week from Bangkok to the Omani capital.

Tehran and Muscat have been of interest to TAAX since Oct 1 last year when its Bangkok-Shanghai service got off the ground.

But they represent a dramatic shift in TAAX's route planning, which since its 2014 inception has focused on Japan, South Korea and China.

TAAX's move to extend its reach to Tehran and Muscat came a surprise as the airline's chief executive Nadda Buranasiri indicated to the Bangkok Post in January that it was spreading its wings to India and China.

Mr Nadda's intimation came against an expectation the aviation safety fiasco involving the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) red-flagging Thailand in June last year could be resolved, which is now most unlikely.

The essence of the ICAO's red-flagging means that Thai-registered airlines are not allowed to open new routes, nor raise the frequency of existing flights to foreign countries, nor change aircraft types already deployed for current services.

It is up to individual countries to follow the ICAO ruling. Iran and Oman are taking a different view and giving TAAX the right to operate to their territories.

TAAX would pioneer the non-stop no-frills flights from Bangkok to Tehran and Muscat -- routes that are mainly served by Tehran-based Mahan Airlines and flag carrier Oman Air, respectively.

Tehran is considered an emerging tourism market following lifting of sanctions against Iran in January this year.

Iran is viewed as one of the few remaining exotic destinations, thus offering TAAX the opportunity to develop traffic, especially among more adventurous Thai travellers, executives said.

Muscat is probably less appealing from the exotic point of view, though it offers the airline the potential to carry more inbound passengers from the Middle East to Thailand.

Given a choice, TAAX is keener to resume the service to Sapporo, which was terminated last August.

TAAX wants to expand its network to better utilise its fleet of Airbus 330-300s, which has grown to six following the entry of the latest aeroplane in March this year.

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