Thai Lion Air broadens range with new aircraft

Lion Group recently took delivery of a third Boeing 737 Max 8, which stands out with its split-tip winglets that enhance aerodynamics.

Thai Lion Air (TLA) is roaring to a lofty altitude with the introduction of medium- and long-haul routes using a new generation of jetliners.

The Thai-registered budget airline affiliated with Indonesia’s Lion Group has sought official approval to use three Airbus A330-300 wide-body aircraft to enable a range as far as Europe from TLA’s base at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport.

TLA will also incorporate the Boeing 737 Max, one of the world’s newest commercial aircraft, by early next year, becoming the operator of one of the youngest and most modern fleets in Thailand.

The entry of Airbus A330-300s and the 737 Max, which will require Thai authorities’ approval, will usher in a new era of growth for TLA, which since December 2013 has operated domestic and short-haul flights to neighbouring countries using a fleet of new 737-800 and 737-900ER models.

The plan is geared towards the highly anticipated lifting of the red flag on Thailand’s aviation safety by the International Civil Aviation Organization by year-end.

The red flag, which went into effect in June 2015 after the UN audit agency found “significant safety concerns” in Thai civil aviation authorities’ failure to meet standards in regulating aviation businesses and granting airline licences, has barred Thai-registered airlines from flying to many foreign airports.

Insiders tell the Bangkok Post that TLA will embark on medium- and long-haul services to countries like Japan, South Korea and other long-range destinations, including the Middle East and even Europe, that can be handled by A330-300s.

The deployment of the 737 Max 8, which increases the range of the 737-800 by 1,000-6,600 km, will enable TLA to cover farther-out destinations such as northern China.

The plan also underscores TLA’s intention to compete more intensively and effectively with arch rival Thai AirAsia and its long-haul low-cost carrier sister, Thai AirAsia X.

Parent Lion Group has yet to confirm the numbers of the 737 Max to be assigned to TLA, though insiders expect a combination of two variants, the 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9.

The first of 737 Maxes could be delivered to TLA next April, and TLA is destined to be the world’s first carrier to operate the 737 Max 9, which has a longer fuselage than the 737 Max 8.

Lion Group has ordered 246 737 Maxes in three variants: the Max 8, the Max 9 and the Max 10.

The group has so far taken delivery of three Max 8s: two for parent Indonesian Lion Air and one for Malaysian joint venture Malindo Air, which was recently rebranded as Batik Malaysia.

A total of eight Max 8s is planned for delivery to both Lion Air and Batik Malaysia for the whole of this year.

Five of those are for Lion Air and three for Batik Malaysia.

Lion Air already has three A330-300s powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700s in operation. These were ordered in late 2014.

But three more of the model have been added to the group’s total from an additional order made last September and will be earmarked for TLA.

According to TLA chief executive Aswin Yangkirativorn, TLA plans to add 5-10 new aircraft to its fleet, which now contains 28 737-800s and 737-900ERs.

Mr Aswin did not specify the type of new aircraft planned for next year, but he said TLA wants to cover three Japanese airports — namely Narita, Osaka and Fukuoka — plus Incheon in South Korea, all of which require aircraft with greater range.

In October, TLA intends to inaugurate flights from Bangkok’s Don Mueang to India’s Kochi and Taipei, following its launch of daily Don Mueang-Denpasar service on Sept 15.

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