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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Global carriers slash thai-bound flights

About 48 flights a week are now out of the schedule amid global downturn


International airlines and freighters have cut 1,536 Thailand-bound flights from their schedules for March to October due to the global economic crisis and the tourism slump, according to the Department of Civil Aviation's Air Transport Regulatory Bureau.

The number of passenger flights for the summer schedule has fallen from 963 per week to 938, while freighter numbers are down from 116 to 93 flights per week, the bureau said.

This means an average of 48 flights per week have disappeared from the schedule.

Chomnong Saraaksorn, director of the bureau, said the global economic slowdown was the key factor in the cancellations, while the Kingdom's political problems had added to the pressure on the carriers. "So far, the total number of international airlines operating in and out of Thailand remains at 90 - the same figure as in March to October last year," Chomnong said.

Pandit Chanapai, executive vice president for commercial operations at Thai Airways International (THAI), said the company had cut 170 domestic and international flights from its May schedule due to slow forward bookings.

"Most of the dropped flights are on regional routes, due to it being the low [tourist] season, as well as the fallout from the H1N1 flu epidemic," Pandit said, referring to the global spread of the disease commonly known as swine flu.

Pandit said additional flights had been cut for the period of June 1-9 as people continue to avoid unnecessary travel for fear of contracting the flu virus.

THAI has seen few new bookings at its office in Los Angeles, where more than 40 infections have been reported.

As a result, the airline decided to postpone adding three more flights from Bangkok to Los Angeles originally scheduled for the month of June until the flu situation is resolved.

THAI currently operates four nonstop flights per week on the route. Singapore Airlines has made the most reductions in both passenger and cargo services, with 13 dropped flights, followed by Russia's Transaero with 10 flights.

Korean Air, Northwest Airlines, Air China, China Eastern, EVA Air and Indian Airlines are each reported to have cut between five and 13 flights.

Five airlines have halted their services to Thailand altogether: Air Mandalay of Burma, Air Seychelles, Best Air, Hainan Airlines and Russia's Vladivostok Air.

Best Air stopped operations due to internal problems, while Air Seychelles is short of aircraft and Vladivostok Air has reported traffic-rights problems.

On the other hand, these reductions have prompted some airlines to introduce, boost or resume flights to Thailand.

These include Tiger Airways, AirAsia, Cebu Pacific Air, Flyflyer (Malaysia), Philippine Airlines, Emirates, Gulf Air, Air Berlin, Blue Panorama (Italy), Edelweiss Air (Switzerland), Hong Kong Air, Je Ju Air (South Korea) and China's Shenzhen Air.

Tiger Airways has added the most flights, boosting its schedule to 35 flights from 21.

According to Chomnong, the number of domestic flights has also decreased, particularly on the Bangkok-Koh Samui and Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son province routes. Bangkok Airways is cutting flights between Bangkok and Koh Samui, and will halt flights to the island temporarily in the event that passenger numbers decline too far.

According to Pandit, THAI will add only one new route this year, from Bangkok to Oslo, Norway.

He said the carrier's passenger load factor - the percentage of seats filled - was 73 per cent in April, falling short of the projected 75 per cent.

Load factor in May, projected to reach 71 per cent, also fell short at 65 per cent.

However, the airline's average load factor remains at the targeted 76.7 per cent.

"There is a slim chance of recovery in the second half, but second-quarter results could also miss their targets," Pandit said.

Thanachart Securities said THAI's second-quarter earnings could be negative due to the flu outbreak and rising fuel prices. THAI executives insist, however, that annualised performance will improve on an expected recovery in the high season.

THAI's first-quarter net profit was the highest of all Thai listed firms, at Bt7.87 billion.

THAI shares closed at Bt15 |on Friday, down Bt1.20 or 7.41 per cent.

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