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Friday, February 6, 2009

Cathay Pacific adds Thai flights

Despite relatively low passenger traffic because of the global economic downturn and Bangkok's airport crisis, Cathay Pacific and sister carrier Dragon Air are not cutting back on flights through Thailand.

Aaron Chan, Cathay Pacific manager for Thailand, says the group is committed to Thailand.

Instead, they decided to raise their capacities through the kingdom in the summer travel season that starts at the end of next month on optimistic anticipation of a traffic rebound. Summer is usually a low travel period.

The decision came even though their service through Bangkok is the worst performer in the Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific group's worldwide load factor that can reach highs of 80%.

Except for long holidays like Christmas and New Year and the Lunar New Year when seats are normally full, Cathay Pacific managed to fill only 50-60% of seats available through Bangkok.

Likewise, freight tonnage moved by Cathay Pacific through Bangkok plummeted by 30-40% against its load capacities as shipment requirements declined sharply.

Both passenger volume and cargo movements in the aftermath of the seizure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport have been lower than the same period last year.

But Aaron Chan, Cathay Pacific manager for Thailand, said the group is increasing its services to reflect its commitment to Thailand, its largest station outside Hong Kong.

The group operates numerous flights to five countries through Bangkok.

Starting at the end of next month, its sister carrier Dragon Air will increase the Hong Kong-Phuket route to nine flights a week from seven.

Cathay Pacific will also add a weekly flight on the Bangkok-Delhi route, increasing its frequency to seven flights a week, but decided to reduce the frequency on Bangkok-Mumbai to three flights a week from four.

The airline's trunk route of Bangkok-Hong Kong that it has operated for 62 years will remain unchanged at five flights per day.

Cathay Pacific operates a mixed fleet of wide-body aircraft on its service through Thailand with an average of 350 seats, including the Boeing 747, 777, Airbus A330 and A340 jetliners.

The airline faces an uphill task to fill seats to Thailand as many of its inbound passengers, who constitute the bulk of passengers carried through the Thai capital, continue to perceive Thailand as a risky place and a country to avoid, because of the airport seizure.

"People still travel, but they don't choose [to travel to] Thailand, and Hong Kong people instead go to places like Japan and South Korea," he said.

Though Suvarnabhumi airport was reopened after 10 days of closure on Dec 5, the fear of being stranded at Bangkok airports by political movements continues to haunt them, albeit with less intensity.

"If you look at the load factor (so far), it does not look like it changed a lot and the deteriorating economic crisis has made it worse," he said.

David Leung, regional director for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, agreed, saying in a separate interview that the airport closure and unsettled political issues in Thailand will prove to be a major impediment to reviving traffic there.

The tagline of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's current campaign in promoting the kingdom as a value-for-money destination is only a small part of bringing back tourists, according to Mr Chan.

The bottom line is for the country to be more active in rebuilding its battered international image and reviving confidence.

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