Thai Airways International Pcl, Thailand’s largest carrier, said economy-class bookings are lagging behind corporate travel because deadly anti-government riots in April triggered a canceling of conferences.
“Once they cancel, those bookings disappear for more than a year,” President Piyasvasti Amranand said in an interview in Queenstown, New Zealand, where the Star Alliance group of airlines is holding its annual meeting.
At least 89 people died in the protests, which saw shopping malls torched and hotels closed amid battles on Bangkok streets between the military and anti-government demonstrators. Countries including Australia and Canada issued advisories against traveling to the Thai capital, and the carrier filled just 56 percent of its seats in May and lost about $90 million in revenue.
“Group tours are not really back,” Piyasvasti said. The carrier is filling about 75 percent of its seats, “which is lower than it should be,” he said.
The Bangkok-based airline’s stock is up 185 percent this year, compared with a 41 percent increase in Thailand’s benchmark SET Index. The shares dropped 1.8 percent, the steepest decline since Dec. 8, to 53.25 baht as of 11:50 a.m. local time.
Thai Airways bookings should “get back to normal” during the first quarter of next year, said Nalyne Viriyasathien, an analyst at DBS Vickers Securities (Thailand) Co.
“It will take some time to reach the level before the political violence,” Nalyne said. “The outlook is quite positive now. The more stable political situation should attract more tourists next year.”
Piyasvasti, Thailand’s former energy minister, is shopping for planes after cutting expenses and restructuring debt to help revive state-controlled Thai after a record loss in 2008. The carrier raised about 15 billion baht ($500 million) from a share sale to existing shareholders in September.
Thai Airways last month announced plans to put 37 new airplanes into service by the end of 2017 as it replaces an aging fleet and seeks to add new routes.
The company will take delivery of six Airbus SAS A380s starting in 2012 and is in talks with Boeing Co. to be a “launch customer” for a revamped jetliner known as the 777-X that will see a new wing designed for the wide-bodied plane, Piyasvasti said.
Until 2012, most of the new planes will be matched by retirements of older jetliners. After that, Thai Airways will focus on seeking new routes.
“Everything should be done by the end of 2012 and then we will look at more,” Piyasvasti said. “The growth will come from the second phase of acquisitions, where we will see 12 narrow-body planes coming in from 2011 and 26 wide-bodied planes coming in between 2012 and 2017.”
The new planes will increase the airline’s fleet to 107 in 2017 from 84 currently and cut the average age to about eight years from 11 years, he said.
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