Reply To: Alex on… Can Thai and MAS fully utilise their A380s?

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In a way, the news that Thai will bring its A380 into London Heathrow next December should come as a surprise.

Only last March at a media event in London attended by Business Traveller, Thai Airways was trumpeting the fact that the London route would be getting its newly refurbished B747-400s.

But why has Thai taken so long in launching its 507-seater A380 on Bangkok-London, traditionally its most important European destination? With hindsight, Thai probably wishes it never did order six A380s way back in 2004.

As with MAS (Malaysia Airlines), the superjumbos were ordered to see service on the voluminous kangaroo routes linking Europe with Australia.

But nine years is a long time in aviation and in the meantime the fast-growing Gulf carriers have siphoned off many passengers heading to or from Australia who, in days gone by, would have patronised either Thai or MAS.

It’s a particular problem here in the UK because the Gulf carriers serve regional points in addition to London.

For example, Thai can only provide passengers with departures from London Heathrow whereas Emirates can sell Bangkok, Sydney and so on (via Dubai) out of London Heathrow and Gatwick plus Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow.

In addition, UK regional departures are also available from Gulf rivals Etihad and Qatar Airways.

It means that the A380s ordered by Thai and MAS are simply too large for their kangaroo route market share.

According to a report in the industry magazine Aviation Week, Thai’s executive VP of strategy of business development Chokchai Panyayong said: “Thai will not compete head-to-head with the Gulf carriers in the crowded kangaroo route from the UK to Australia… [but] even though our market share has deteriorated we continue to maintain our presence.”

MAS faces a similar problem. Its small fleet of A380s are currently limited to plying between Kuala Lumpur, London and Paris in between fitting in a daily return trip to Hong Kong.

Yet only last year, MAS intended to operate a through A380 service linking London with Sydney and Melbourne. According to the Australian business media, plans were drawn up for A380 services into Sydney to start in November 2012 with Melbourne to follow in March of this year. Both plans were axed owing to weak demand.

For its part, Thai currently operates A380 services into Frankfurt and Paris. Within Asia, its A380s link Bangkok with Hong Kong and Tokyo Narita.

Will these carriers ever operate their A380s Down Under? Well, it remains to be seen how the market will develop. But the Gulf carriers are likely to provide even tougher competition thanks to Emirates’ tie-up with Qantas and Qatar’s impending membership of Oneworld.

Interesting times lie ahead.

Alex McWhirter

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