Thai Airways has indicated it will not retire its remaining fleet of Boeing 747-400 aircraft as quickly as planned.
Thai Airways faces both a short-term and long-term problem. On the short-term, half of its 787 fleet (four of eight aircraft) is currently grounded for “unscheduled” maintenance on its Rolls Royce engines. That has forced Thai to put an immediate hold on its 747 retirement plan. The flag carrier of Thailand already retired two 747-400s earlier this year and had planned to pull one more out of service. That will not happen now. In fact, Krittaphon Chantalitanon, Vice President of Alliances and Commercial Strategy indicated the retirement plan will be delayed “for another year or so.”
Thai retains six 747s in its fleet and had planned to retire them in the following sequence:
- 2019 – one aircraft
- 2020 – one aircraft
- 2021 – two aircraft
- 2022 – two aircraft
Thai is also considering extending the life of handful of its 777s.
This gets us to Thai’s long-term problem. The carrier cannot expect to compete while continuing to offer such a mediocre product in business class. Economy class is just fine on Thai: legroom is great and the service and food meet industry averages. First class is also just fine: not in the league of Singapore Airlines, but very competitive. Business class, however, is woefully uncompetitive on many aircraft, including the 747 and much of the 777 fleet. Thai offers angled seats that are simply not comfortable. Food is also below average. Across all cabins Thai still lacks wi-fi and its AVOD systems are now many years out of date. Meanwhile, the competition keeps innovating. To its credit, Thai is retrofitting its A330 fleet.
Thai has submitted an acquisition plan to the government to acquire 23 aircraft. At this point, however, it is unclear whether that is to acquire additional aircraft for fleet/route expansion or simply to replace existing aircraft. Thai has already cut back services to a handful of European cities.
Like KLM, Thai Airways is likely going to squeeze at least another year out of its 747-400s. Unlike KLM, though, Thai Airways further solidifies its uncompetitive regional position by continuing to offer an outdated product onboard.
image: Richard Vandervord / Wikimedia Commons