New Dreamliners could see THAI return to North America

THAI currently operates six Boeing 787-8s, and will welcome the larger B787-9 next year (credit: nitinut380)
THAI currently operates six Boeing 787-8s, and will welcome the larger B787-9 next year (credit: nitinut380)

Thai Airways International could resume direct flights to North America, following the arrival of its new fleet of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft.

The Bangkok Post reported the national carrier’s president, Charamporn Jotikasthira, as saying recently that the new fuel-efficient long-haul jets could enable it to relaunch flights across the Pacific. But the destination focus is likely shift from major cities like Los Angeles and New York to those with a shorter flight time.

“We are not looking at going back to Los Angeles because it is too far… and crowded with competitors, and we never make money,” Charamporn told the newspaper. “We need to look at other cities in North America such as Seattle and Vancouver, which offer more potential if we decide to return to the continent.”

Despite the fact that Vancouver, Seattle and LA all lie along North America’s West Coast, the distance from Bangkok to Seattle and Vancouver is significantly shorter than between the Thai capital and LA. And with the improved economics of the new B787-9 Dreamliner, which burns approximately 20% less fuel than older similar-sized aircraft, direct North American flights could soon be feasible again.

THAI is planning to take delivery of the first of four B787-9s in 2017. The airline already operates six smaller B787-8s, but the additional capacity of the B787-9 is likely to make it more suitable for North American routes.

One issue clouding THAI’s return to the US however, is the FAA’s recent downgrading of Thailand’s safety rating. An unsatisfactory audit by ICAO, the UN’s aviation body, led to Thailand being dumped in the FAA’s Category 2 last year, along with Bangladesh and Indonesia. And until the country returns to Category 1 status, THAI will be unable to launch any new routes to the US.

THAI once operated flights to LA, San Francisco, New York and Toronto, but rising fuel prices meant that these routes ceased to be economically viable. The airline’s last North American route, to LA, was suspended in October 2015.

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