A new commuter airline, Solar Air, is to launch in Thailand just as a rival operator, Nok Mini, has been forced to cut several of its routes.
Solar Air will start operations out of Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport next month with routes to the provincial towns of Mae Sot, Nan, Roi Et and Lampang. There are plans for additional routes to Loei, Phetchabun, Phrae, Hua hin and Chumphon toward the end of the year.
The airline is specifically targeting business people and will use a fleet of 19-seater Dornier DO-228s, turbo-prop aircraft, and Embraer 110s.
Solar Air managing director Jiratid Ong-Aree told the media that: “Our customer base will be mainly local business and government travel. About 20 percent of customers will be tourists.”
Solar Air plans to operate four weekly services to Mae Sot and Roi Et on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It will serve Nan with three weekly services on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
There have been a number of calls to revitalise Don Mueang Airport after major international and domestic flights were shifted to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in late 2006. Suggestions have included turning it into a major hub for regional low-cost carriers.
Solar will have exclusive rights on the Mae Sot, Nan and Roi Et routes. Bangkok Airways also has a service to Lampang, but this flies from Suvarnabhumi Airport with a stopover in Sukhothai.
Solar will offer one-way promotional fares for the first three months: THB2,590 (US$79) for Mae Sot and Lampang; THB2,390 (US$73), Roi Et and THB3,090 (US$95) for Nan.
Tickets will be available once the launch date is finalised through the airline’s website, airport ticketing counters and travel agents.
Meanwhile, Chiang Mai-based Nok Mini has been forced to drop three routes due to its failure to renew the lease of two Saab 340B planes.
Nok Mini has suspended scheduled services on its Chiang Mai-Udon Thani and Chiang Mai-Khon Kaen routes as well as its first international route, Chiang Rai-Jinghong in China, which only started on June 9.
Rex, the Australian airline leasing the planes, has cited Thailand’s political instability as its reason for ending the agreement.
The airline has now just three 12-seater Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft. Nok Mini is now seeking two French-made ATR-42s, which can carry 44 passengers, as replacements to allow it to revive the routes before the end of the year.
Airline spokesmen said using the ATRs would allow it to form a common fleet with Nok Air, the budget carrier in which Thai Airways International owns 39 percent. Nok Air and Nok Mini are separately owned and controlled.
Nok Mini and Nok Air are in talks about the latter temporarily taking over the Chiang Mai-Udon Thani and Chiang Mai-Khon Kaen routes until Nok Mini gets new planes.
Nok Mini has operated a daily flight on the Chiang Mai-Udon Thani route and three flights a week from Chiang Mai to Khon Kaen. Nok Mini will continue to operate three routes Chiang Mai-Pai, Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai-Nan as well as offering charter services.