Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thai Airways delays wide-body retirements to ease capacity issues

Thai Airways is postponing retiring some of its oldest wide-body aircraft to cover delays in its fleet acquisition plans and a capacity crunch caused by Boeing 787 groundings for unscheduled engine maintenance.

The Thailand flag carrier had planned to retire its remaining Boeing 747-400s over the next few years, VP-alliances and commercial strategy Krittaphon Chantalitanon said. However, it has extended the phaseout “for another year or so,” he told ATW’s sister publication Aviation Daily on the sidelines of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines assembly in Jeju, South Korea on Oct. 19.

Thai has six passenger 747-400s remaining in service after retiring two earlier this year. Of the remainder, one will be phased out in 2019, one in 2020, two in 2021 and two in 2022.

Thai may also have to keep some older Boeing 777s in its fleet longer than planned. The carrier must either delay their retirement or phase them out, bringing in leased or used aircraft to provide short-term capacity, Chantalitanon said.

Thai is one of the many airlines that must progressively ground its Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-powered 787s for unscheduled engine maintenance.

As of Oct. 19, four of Thai’s eight 787s were grounded for engine work, Chantalitanon said. The carrier hopes the number of aircraft grounded at once can be reduced, but it will still have some 787s out of action for the short term at least.

Thai has not yet had to adjust its schedule or cut flights because of the 787 engine issues as other airlines have done. However, the airline has operated a “very tight schedule” because of the groundings, and there have been many flight delays, Chantalitanon said.

Another reason for keeping the 747s and 777s longer is that no new aircraft deliveries are arriving. The last new delivery received was its 12th Airbus A350 earlier this year, and there are no more outstanding orders.

The carrier intends to place more orders, but this process has been delayed because of a government request for the airline to conduct another review of its acquisition plan and growth strategy. This review is likely to be completed by the end of this year, said Chantalitanon. However, even if an order is placed soon, it would still be at least a few years before new aircraft arrive.

When the acquisition plan was initially submitted to the government, it included the purchase of 23 aircraft. The government has asked for this plan to be resubmitted with more details about whether the aircraft are for growth or replacement, and what its expansion plans include.

The 23 aircraft in the submission were to be two-thirds wide-bodies and one-third narrow-bodies, Chantalitanon said. However, the total and mix may change slightly as a result of the review. No specific models have been selected yet, and if the plan is approved, an order would likely be placed in the first half of 2019, Chantalitanon said.

Thai cannot afford to postpone its fleet expansion plans for too much longer, Chantalitanon said. The carrier’s rivals are upgrading their fleets, and Thai must do the same to remain competitive with its premium product. The lack of fleet growth also means the carrier is focused more on consolidating its existing markets than adding new routes.

While the airline is not adding aircraft, it is taking steps to refresh its existing fleet. Thai is progressively upgrading the cabins on its Airbus A330s—three of 15 aircraft have been completed so far, he said. Five more are scheduled to be finished next year. One of the main features of the upgrade will be the introduction of a lie-flat seat in business class on the A330s.

(Adrian Schofield - ATWOnline News)

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