Bangkok Airways, Thailand's leading privately-owned airline, is adding larger capacity jetliners to serve its expanding regional routes.
The firm has placed orders, of an undisclosed value, for three brand-new B737-800s, rather than the two planned earlier this year, with Boeing for
delivery in 2005, according to president and chief executive Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth.
The twin-engine B737-800 will be used for regional and medium-haul routes with a range of 5,926 kilometres and up to 189 seats in one economy-class
As production of B737-800s is taking longer than expected, the Thai airline has opted for two smaller used B737-400s, each with 149 seats, from
Boeing to join its fleet from next March.
The two B737-400s, which will mainly serve Bangkok Airways' mainland China routes, will be replaced when the bigger B737-800s are delivered.
As part of its fleet expansion, two new B717s, each seating 120, will be acquired from Boeing by 2005, raising the number of its short-range jets to six,
according to Dr Prasert.
However, the number of turbo-prop ATR 72-200s, each with 70 seats, in Bangkok Airways' fleet will remain unchanged between now and 2005.
The airline's move to use the medium-range B737-800s is meant to deal with the expected increase in traffic, especially passengers, on its expanding
China-bound flight operations.
"As passengers travel longer routes, they need more comfortable, faster and bigger aircraft," Dr Prasert noted.
Furthermore, some of these farther destinations cannot be comfortably served by small aircraft.
Starting on Sept 27, Bangkok Airways will begin to fly non-stop twice a week from Bangkok to Guilin, southern China, via B717-200s with a flight time
of two hours and 40 minutes.
Guilin is the third China destination to be served by Bangkok Airways which has already been operating scheduled flights to Jinhong (starting in October
2001) and the Unesco World Heritage city of Xian in March this year.
It has secured the rights to operate direct flights from Bangkok to Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Nanjin and is looking to begin flights to these destinations.
At the same time, it has been discussing with Chinese aviation officials for additional destinations.
Bangkok Airways now serves seven domestic destinations and six destinations in neighbouring countries.
Dr Prasert, who founded and owns Bangkok Airways, said the airline had a standing policy to operate a young fleet and has been continuously replacing
older aircraft with new ones. The age of its current fleet ranges from three to five years.
Meanwhile, Bangkok Airways has offered to take a 10% stake in the no-frills domestic airline being planned by Thai Airways International but has not
received a formal response.
"There is a good chance for the low-cost airline to take to the sky because of the market demand and support from the current government," he said.
Thai Airways has said it would have a 49% stake in the planned low-cost airline.