Thursday, August 28, 2008

AirAsia ponders shifting its operations to Don Mueang


AirAsia ponders shifting its operations to Don Mueang


Thai AirAsia's third A320 jet parks at Suvarnabhumi.

AirAsia is wary of Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT)'s latest overture to the low-cost carrier (LCC) to shift its entire operations, including international flights, from Suvarnabhumi to Don Mueang airport. Tassapon Bijleveld, chief executive of Thai AirAsia (TAA), the Thai branch of AirAsia, Southeast Asia's largest LCC group based in Malaysia, said yesterday the airline was prepared for the shift only if AoT gave written guarantees.

Mr Tassapon was concerned about AoT's policy regarding the use of Don Mueang , which has essentially served non-connecting scheduled domestic services, charter flights and VIP flights since the opening of Suvarnabhumi in September 2006.

Roughly half of TAA's flights are on international routes and AirAsia operates frequent flights to Bangkok from its Kuala Lumpur hub and Jakarta base.

''We would hate to find, after being at Don Mueang for a while, that we were told to return to Suvarnabhumi,'' said Mr Tassapon. ''But we would be happy to shift quickly to Don Mueang if AoT could assure us we could remain at Don Mueang for at least five years.''

At the AoT board meeting last Friday, it was resolved that LCCs offering domestic and international flights could operate through Don Mueang while the expansion of Suvarnabhumi is underway from 2009 and 2014.

The directive was given to relieve congestion at Suvarnabhumi during the construction period. Many areas could be closed to facilitate the work, which involves building a mid-field terminal and a third runway at an estimated cost of 78 billion baht.

With LCCs like TAA and AirAsia resuming operations through Don Mueang and the forthcoming expansion of Suvarnabhumi, AoT hopes the service capacity of Bangkok's new international airport will need no further expansion before 2018. Over the next five years the expansion will increase Suvarnabhumi's passenger handling capacity from 45 to 60 million a year.

TAA and its mother airline had originally wanted to operate all their domestic and international flights through Don Mueang but relocated all flights to Suvarnabhumi after the authorities reacted to complaints of unfair competition from other airlines and stopped international flights through Don Mueang .

AoT acting president Serirat Prasutanond yesterday insisted the board's directive was firm and LCCs like TAA and AirAsia had a choice to move to Don Mueang on a voluntary basis before and after Suvarnabhumi's expansion.

He added that, in accordance with its standardised fee policy, AoT is not offering lower parking or landing fee incentives for airlines to move to Don Mueang .

TAA yesterday announced the launch of a daily Bangkok-Hong Kong flight in the last week of Oct. This will make it the first LCC to operate on the route and it hopes to achieve a load factor over 80% in the first year of operation

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