By Arno Maierbrugger
Dubai-based Transworld Aviation (TWA), a supplier of aircraft parts and aviation maintenance services and the first Middle East company of its kind with a presence in Southeast Asia, is reportedly considering to set up a budget airline in Thailand to tap the growing potential of Chinese visitors to the country.
The planned airline, backed by local joint venture TWA Thailand (of which TWA holds 49% and a private Thai investor 51%), would, in a first step, offer charter flights linking Bangkok and Phuket with destinations in southern China starting from the end of 2015, local media reported. However, TWA has yet to confirm the plan.
Observers say that despite the large number of budget carriers crowding the sky over Thailand, there is still potential for direct connections between Thailand and second-tier cities in southern China which are currently not served on direct routes by the main big players such as AirAsia, China Southern Airlines, Dragon Air or Shanghai Airlines.
Other market drivers are the anticipated rapid rise in Chinese tourist numbers to Thailand in the coming years, as well as incentives granted by the Thai Ministry of Transport which aims at developing Thailand into a regional hub for aviation and is currently expanding Bangkok’s main budget carrier hub, Don Muang Airport, as well as Phuket International Airport.
Apart from forging out plans for a low-cost airline, TWA is also preparing to set up a regional aircraft-maintenance and parts distribution centre in Thailand aimed at servicing and supplying parts for military and government aircraft as well as smaller and private jets, but eventually also commercial airplanes. Such a centre would compete with the two existing large regional aircraft maintenance centres in Singapore, operated by SIA Engineering, part of the Singapore Airlines Group, and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, operated by MAS Engineering, as division of Malaysia Airlines.
According to TWA’s chairman Abdullah al-Sulaimani, his company’s biggest sales propositions are the quick turnaround of OEM aircraft parts, its service expertise and its experience in emerging aviation markets. Apart from TWA’s presence in the GCC, it has also expanded to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Tanzania, as well as to the US in the past.
TWA’s current customer list shows prominent Middle East carriers such as Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, Oman Air, RAK Airways, Pakistan International Airlines, Yemenia and Air Arabia. Other major customers include Air India, Sri Lankan Airlines, Thai Airways and Indian budget carriers such as Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, IndiGo and SpiceJet. TWA also serves several defence organisations, the royal fleets of Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, as well as private and corporate aviation operators.
In Southeast Asia, Sulaimani sees long-term growth in the aviation sector particularly supported by the launch of the Asean Economic Community by end-2015 and with it the liberalisation of air traffic rights in the ten-country bloc. There will be a single aviation market as a result of the Asean Open Sky Agreement that will remove relatively tight national laws and aviation regulations and open the market for a number of new airlines and routes.
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