Orient Thai Airlines has been given a new lease on life with the acquisition of 12 new jets and an image makeover aimed especially at its former budget subsidiary One-Two-Go.
While much of the expansion will be aimed at consolidating its mainstream business _ the low-fare domestic air transport segment _ the privately owned airline is contemplating its first long-haul flights to London.
Heralding the move will be deployment of 12 Sukhoi Superjet 100/95Bs, narrow-body jets with 98 seats produced by the Moscow-based jet maker Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC).
Negotiations with SCAC have entered an advanced stage for immediate purchase of 12 twin-engine SSJ100s, with delivery of the first two planned for next November, said Kajit Habanananda, Orient Thai’s chairman.
Included in the talks are an option for another 12 SSJ100s and a package deal calling for SCAC to set up a Sukhoi aircraft maintenance centre and pilot training facility in Thailand.
The airline hopes to finalise negotiations, which began in July, next month, Mr Kajit told the Bangkok Post.
Orient Thai will be the first customer outside Russia for the aircraft, valued at US$25 million apiece, so it will receive generous financial terms.
The Russian-made jets are meant to be the new workhorses plying domestic routes, either substituting or supplementing Orient Thai’s ageing fleet of MD-80s and MD-90s.
But the airline does not plan to phase out the MD jets, now numbering nine although three of them are used as spares, just yet. “They’re still in good working order, and we intend to continue to use them,” said Mr Kajit.
By both retaining the old 172-seat MD aircraft and acquiring the new Russian-made jets, Orient Thai will boost its domestic flight capacity significantly, inching closer to the level of major player Thai AirAsia, which has 20 180-seat A320s.
SCAC said all 12 initial Sukhoi jets will be delivered to Orient Thai by 2014.
Mr Kajit said the smaller Sukhoi better fits demand on most domestic routes and is technologically more advanced with a fuel burn that is 7-10% lower than other aircraft of comparable size and capacity, helping to cut costs.
The Sukhoi and MD planes will be used essentially on domestic routes serviced by One-Two-Go, whose name was tainted by the Phuket crash in September 2007. Earlier this year, its name was replaced by that of its parent company, Orient Thai Airlines.
The Orient Thai Airlines brand name was previously used for the group’s scheduled international routes and charter flights.
However, the MD jets will later play a greater role in Orient Thai’s charter operations as the Sukhoi jets are phased into the airline’s fleet.
In an image makeover, the airline recently adopted a new face for its logo, with the words “Orient” in red and “Thai” in blue and a red flying bird running along the same line. The airline is creating a new slogan that will emphasise the theme of “sincerity” in its service.
It will also introduce new staff uniforms, possibly replacing the current yellow ones with a new colour scheme.
Orient Thai is searching for a second B747-400 jumbo jet with which to launch its first regularly scheduled intercontinental flights. Its only current international route is Bangkok-Hong Kong, although on Dec 29 it will begin thrice-weekly service to Incheon, South Korea.
“We’re studying the possibility of flying regularly for the first time from Bangkok to London’s Gatwick,” said Geoffrey Chung, an adviser to Orient Thai’s board, adding that the airline will slowly expand its scheduled international service.