AirAsia seeks govt support to make Thailand a hub

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes yesterday met with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ask the government to help Asia's biggest low-cost carrier to expand its flight network here so that the country is strategically located for regional tourism.

He was accompanied by group executives including Azran Osman-Rani, chief executive officer of AirAsia X. They were greeted by Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong and Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt.

After the meeting, Fernandes said he was confident of using Thailand as a regional hub for the airline.

Yingluck said the government had been improving key provincial airports such as Chiang Mai, Udon Thani, and Krabi to make them suitable to welcome foreign arrivals directly.

AirAsia was assured that the government's policy is to promote Thailand as a hub for low-cost carriers in Asean. It will more completely facilitate connections among all modes of transport including road, rail and air, not only at home but also linking Asean with such countries as China, India, Japan and South Korea.

Yingluck assigned the transport minister to discuss with AirAsia potential destinations in the country to connect with neighbouring nations.

This is not the first time Fernandes has expressed his interest in the Thai market. Previously, he urged the government to promote Don Mueang as the hub for low-cost carriers and also to lower its international airport tax from 700 baht (US$23) to 250-300 baht, after Kuala Lumpur made a similar move.

Malaysia has opened an airport terminal specifically for low-cost carriers, and its international rate works out to about 250 baht. However, Fernandes insisted there was no problem with having two hubs for low-cost airlines in the region.

Meanwhile, Deputy Transport Minister Prin Suvanadat has ordered Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) to seek ways to enable much more frequent takeoffs and landings at Don Meuang and Suvarnabhumi.

The ministry also asked the state agency to ask charter operators to schedule their flights outside of peak hours at the two Bangkok airports to reduce congestion.

Aerothai president Prajak Sajjasophon said he would talk with airlines next week, including budget airlines, about their five-year marketing strategies to enable the state agency to draw up air-traffic management plans to accommodate their strategies.

He said Aerothai would take four months to finish adjusting flight schedules to boost the capacity of the Bangkok airports.

Tassapon Bijleveld, CEO of Thai AirAsia, has said that while there are more than 20 low-cost carriers in the region, only a few are playing a rising role so far.

*US$1=29.7 baht


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