Thai Airways plans to introduce the A350-900 on the Bangkok-Sydney route in 2018 and upgrade the service to double daily.
Thai Airways currently serves Sydney with 11 weekly flights using ageing 747-400s. Thai Airways VP Alliances and Commercial Strategy Krittaphon Chantalitanon told Blue Swan Daily on the sidelines of the 24-Oct-2017 AAPA Assembly of Presidents that Sydney is included in the deployment plan for the five A350-900s that Thai Airways is slated to receive in 1H2018.
Mr Krittaphon said Thai Airways intends to introduce three additional frequencies to Sydney as the A350 is introduced on the route, resulting in a double daily flight. Thai Airways will likely transition Bangkok-Sydney route from the 747-400 to A350 at the beginning of the next southern summer season in late Mar-2018.
Total capacity on the Bangkok-Sydney route will increase by 7% to 4,494 weekly one-way seats as Thai Airways introduces three additional frequencies. Thai’s 747-400s have 14% more seats than its A350-900s but the number of frequencies will increase by 27%.
Thai will significantly improve its position in the Sydney market as a double daily service will result in better connections. For example, Thai Airways now only offers quick connections four times per week to Sydney from most of its destinations in Europe and South Asia, including London and Mumbai. Most of Thai’s flights from Europe and South Asia arrive in Bangkok in the early morning but Thai’s morning departure from Bangkok to Sydney only now operates four times per week, while the evening departure from Bangkok to Sydney operates seven days per week. Upgrading the morning departure to daily will therefore enable Thai to better compete in several large sixth freedom markets.
Introducing the A350 also enables Thai Airways to provide a much better premium product in the Sydney market. Thai’s remaining 747-400s, which will be phased out over the next few years, have 40 angled flat business class seats in 2-2 configuration. A full lie flat product is only provided in the small first class cabin, which has nine to 10 seats (depending on the specific aircraft).
Thai Airways has configured its A350s with 32 lie flat seats in a more desirable all aisle access 1-2-1 configuration. Thai’s A350s have 280 economy seats, while its 747-400s have 325 seats; both aircraft types have seatback IFE in economy but the system is more modern on the A350.
Sydney is now the only Thai Airways destination in Australia without a lie flat business class product. Thai Airways has been providing a lie flat business product in the Perth market for three years and in the Brisbane market for two years. Perth and Brisbane are served with 787-8s, which are configured with lie flat business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration.
Thai Airways began offering a lie flat product in the Melbourne market on 1-Oct-2017, when it transitioned seven weekly frequencies from 777-200s to A350-900s. Thai Airways already has a double daily service to Melbourne and plans to introduce the A350-900 on the other seven frequencies, which are now operated with 777-300s, from 1-Feb-2018.
See related report: Thai Airways finally improves Melbourne product by introducing A350s
777-200s and 777-300s are older model 777s that Thai has configured with angled flat business seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Its newer 777-300ERs have a similar premium product to Thai’s A350s with lie flat business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Thai Airways does not currently use the 777-300ER on any of its Australia routes.
Mr Krittaphon said Thai Airways considers the 777-300ER and A350-900 to be interchangeable as the inflight products across both cabins are virtually the same. He said Thai Airways therefore in future could serve Sydney with 777-300ERs, which would provide a 31% increase in business class capacity and an 8% increase in overall capacity compared with the A350-900. Thai’s 777-300ERs have 10 more business class seats and 17 more economy seats than its A350-900.
If the 777-300ER is used to Sydney in future, both flights would likely be operated with the type as splitting the flights would be complicated from a crew standpoint. The 777-300ER could potentially be used to provide more capacity during peak periods but for now the plan is to use the A350-900 year-round.
Thai Airways competes on the Bangkok-Sydney route against Qantas and Emirates. Qantas offers one daily flight using A330-300 and Emirates offers one daily flight using A380s. Both airlines already provide lie flat all aisle access business class product in the Bangkok-Sydney market, making the upgrade next year for Thai Airways even more significant.
Thai Airways will become only the second airline to operate the A350 to Sydney. Taiwan’s China Airlines is introducing A350 service on the Sydney-Taipei route from 1-Dec-2017.
The recent delivery of Thai’s seventh A350 enabled the airline to upgrade the first Melbourne flight. Thai Airways has five more A350s on order, all of which are slated to be delivered in 1H2018. The eighth aircraft will likely be used to upgrade the second Melbourne flight while Thai’s ninth and tenth A350 will likely be used on the Bangkok-Sydney route.