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Nok Air Says Domestic Air Travel Lukewarm Despite Reopening

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Nok Air Says Domestic Travel Lukewarm Despite Reopening

Despite Thailand’s reopening on Nov 1, domestic air passenger travel has not recovered to operators’ expectations due to a decline in the number of tourists from abroad has been lukewarm, according to Nok Air chief executive Wutthiphum Jurangkool.

Wutthiphum said the airline has re-hired workers and resumed operations nationwide, but passengers and revenue are still far below what they were in 2019.

As a result, the airline carried less than 1% of its pre-pandemic total of international passengers at Don Mueang airport in November. There have been some cross-regional flights from Phuket to Chiang Mai, but demand remains low.

Even with the stimulus programme, We Travel Together, the number of domestic passengers continues to decline.

Despite an increase in load factor to 83% last month from 70% in 2020, Nok Air has reduced frequencies to 60 flights since November last year. This is when Nok Air had 80 flights per day.

Mr Wutthiphum said the airline must seek a loan of 280 million baht by the first quarter of next year to support cash flow due to the slow recovery.

Nok Air must wait for the government’s approval before adding six replacement Boeing 737-800 jets. Nok Air is planning to operate 19 aircraft by the end of this year. The airline will remove three Q400 jets from service to restructure its fleet and make room for six new aircraft, he said.

Nok Air’s New air travel plans

If mainland Chinese tourists are able to travel abroad by next October and the airline acquires new aircraft as planned, Mr Wutthiphum said the airline might reach its full revenue recovery in two years.

The company will also have to assess the global impact of the Covid-19 Omicron variant.

In November, Mr Wutthiphum said, the airline paid creditors who are former staff and passengers who are creditors under its debt rehabilitation plan approved by the Central Bankruptcy Court on Sept 29. Currently, there are fewer than 100 creditors, he said.

He said the airline travel plans to resume international services to Japan (Osaka), India (Hyderabad), and Taiwan by next April. It is possible that routes to regional countries such as Vietnam may resume earlier if there is sufficient demand and more relaxed travel rules, he said.

The new domestic air travel route from Nakhon Ratchasima to Chiang Mai is slated to begin in April, followed by flights to Surat Thani, Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket by the end of 2022.

Because Nakhon Ratchasima has a short runway, only two airlines have aircraft compatible with it, Wutthiphum said the city has less competition. Despite the demand from this city, the government should subsidise operations so airlines can add more flights from this region.

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