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Thai AirAsia to add 10 extra jets over four years

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In a move reflecting its aggressive expansion, no-frills carrier Thai AirAsia (TAA) wants to expand its fleet to 50 jetliners by 2016, 10 more planes than it earlier planned.

Over the next five years, the airline will add 26 single-aisle A320 jets to support its fast-growing domestic and regional network, according to the airline's application for listing submitted recently to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The document also provides a breakdown of the aircraft delivery schedule: five aircraft this year, six next year and five each year from 2014 to 2016.

TAA's fleet of A320 jetliners has grown to 24 now. Fifteen of the 26 new A320s TAA will acquire over the next five years will be purchased at a total cost of 19.45 billion baht.

The airline, a unit of AirAsia, Southeast Asia's largest low-cost carrier, hopes that some of the A320 jets include the A320neo, the new A320 version that boasts better fuel efficiency.

The aircraft would be part of the 200 A320neos that TAA's Malaysia-based parent ordered from Airbus last June in a transaction worth US$18.5 billion.

The A320neo is set to enter service in October 2015 with Virgin America, 27 years after the first A320 was delivered.

Another key element underscoring TAA's fast-paced expansion is the time frame for opening two additional domestic hubs: Hat Yai next year and Udon Thani the year after.

TAA has three domestic hubs _ defined as staging direct flights to other destinations that return to their original base _ in Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi airport), Phuket and Chiang Mai.

The airline's hub strategy has seen it strengthen its Chiang Mai base by becoming the first and only airline to offer daily flights from Chiang Mai to Macau, beginning May 22.

TAA initiated the Chiang Mai hub early last year, operating eight daily flights to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, two to Phuket and one to Hat Yai, plus three weekly flights to Ubon Ratchathani.

TAA announced six new routes this year, perhaps the most by any airline in such a short span of time, and wants to introduce more routes both at home and abroad.

On its radar screen are four or five cities in southern China and two or three in India, said TAA chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld.

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Guest Friday, 25 April 2014

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