Narita, Osaka Routes Next For Thai AirAsia X

July 08--Thai AirAsia X (TAAX) is making its next move in the long-haul low-cost travel market with the launch of two Japanese routes.

TAAX yesterday firmed up the start-up date of scheduled non-stop flights from its base at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport to Narita and Osaka for Sept 1 making them the airline's second and third routes.

The Japanese service follows on the heels of the carrier's maiden direct flight to South Korea's Incheon airport on June 17.

TAAX said that route got off to a good start, with a higher-than-expected cabin factor of 90% to date.

The airline is upbeat about traffic potential for its Thailand-Japan routes, expecting to fill an average of 90% of the 377 seats available on each flight of its Airbus 330-300 wide-body jets.

Chief executive Nadda Buranasiri said strong travel demand between the two countries - 453,600 Thais travelled to Japan last year (up by 74% from 2012) and 1.5 million Japanese to Thailand (up 11.9%) - would make the Narita and Osaka flights successful.

TAAX is counting on lower fares averaging 20-30% below full-service airlines' ticket prices to establish itself in the business, a strategy Mr Nadda insisted was not meant to prey on legacy carriers.

"We believe we will create a new market segment on the country pair, catering to free independent travellers rather than taking away from legacy airlines," he said.

TAAX will become the first long-haul low-cost operator between Thailand and the Land of Rising Sun, which sees no fewer than five airlines including flag carrier Thai Airways International providing non-stop connections.

Mr Nadda would not elaborate on intensified competition later this year when NokScoot, a joint venture between Thai budget carrier Nok Air and Singapore-based Scoot, joins the fray, vying with TAAX over the same Japanese market.

"Competition is healthy, and our preoccupation is to make ourselves competitive, the most appealing to passengers," he said.

The market response to the two Japanese routes will determine TAAX's next strategic move, which could centre on Japan.

The possibilities include ramping up the frequency of the Don Mueang-Osaka (Kansai airport) service from the planned five flights a week to daily and expanding the Don Mueang-Tokyo (Narita airport) service beyond a once-daily basis.

Also looming large on the radar is the addition of Hokkaido, the largest and northernmost of Japan's 47 prefectures, as TAAX's next port of call.

Fukuoka, Japan's sixth-biggest city, and Nagoya, a major port, were also cited by Mr Nadda as possible future Japanese destinations.

Copyright 2014 - Bangkok Post, Thailand