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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Government halts plan for 65 new airliners

Thai Airways International's plan to buy 65 new aircraft at a cost of 400 billion baht might have to be passed on to the next government for consideration due to several unclear details. Transport Minister Adm Theera Haocharoen said some issues remained vague and needed clarification.

Thai Airways' board chairman and air force commander ACM Chalit Phukphasuk endorsed the plan to buy the planes on Saturday. The 10-year plan starts next year.

The national carrier is waiting for comments from related agencies, including the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) and the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, on its rationale and investment worthiness.

A ministerial source said marketing, projection and operation targets must be clearly set out before determining the types and numbers of new aircraft purchased. Issues which must be worked out in more detail include growth projection of the Asian market, particularly China and India, and market segmentation.

Thai Airways is expecting to retire 47 aging aircraft and get the 65 new planes through rental and purchase arrangements.

The airline plans to add 16 planes for long-haul flights, each with 300-500 seats.

Also on the shopping list are 29 medium to long-range jets, each with 250-50 seats, and 20 planes with 150-250 seats for domestic and regional routes.

Meanwhile, Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said Don Mueang airport would serve international flights over the next five to 10 years while Suvarnabhumi gets expanded.

The Airports of Thailand (AoT) was told to submit plans on the Suvarnabhumi airport expansion and the use of Don Mueang to the cabinet before the Dec 23 election.

"We are rushing to seek cabinet approval for the overall framework, but not going into budgets or any investments," Mr Sansern said.

With the number of people using Suvarnabhumi airport approaching the annual capacity of 45 million passengers, the new airport needed an additional terminal as well as other buildings, he said.

As part of the plan, the AoT must conduct a feasibility study and draw up a plan for transferring some international airlines back to the old airport.

The AoT needed to work on connections between Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang as well as logistics management, because the skytrain project linking the two airports would take a long time.

Don Mueang now serves non-connecting domestic flights.

The 93-year-old airport was decommissioned when Suvarnabhumi opened in September last year, but was reopened in March to ease pressure on the new airport.

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