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Asian aviation roars back into the skies

Airlines in Asia are heading back to the skies

All the Thai airlines are currently recording a massive uptick in passengers as locals and foreign tourists take to the Thai skies again. The recent high season was very high indeed. But it’s not as if the airfares were great value – in fact they were at record highs (and appear unlikely to come down in the short-term).

In just about every case, all Thai domestic airlines have been adding flights to old routes and introducing new ones in a major recovery of the Thai aviation sector. Even Thai Airways, once the country’s flagship, has made its way from the precipice after sending years in debt rehabilitation.

Just last month they put in an order for 45 new Boeing 787 Dreamliners as they reinvigorate their aging fleet (but even despite this massive order, Airbus are the predominant supplier of planes to airlines in Asia).

In 2024 there are three new start-up airlines launching in Thailand as well. So expect the Thai skies to get even more crowded.

And with the post-pandemic tourism demographic comes new opportunities for the Thai carriers as well as regional carriers. The Indian tourism market into Thailand, once out of the Top Ten, is now frequently in the Top Three most numerous arrivals into, primarily, Bangkok and Phuket.

India’s national airline, Air India, once an emblem of their country’s aviation dreams, found itself drowning in debt and mismanagement under state control. Its fate seemed sealed, with no one willing to take on the burden of the iconic but financially troubled carrier.

Then there was the Covid pandemic.

A ray of hope emerged in 2021 when India’s renowned Tata Group stepped in to acquire the beleaguered airline. It was to be the saviour for Air India, and it came at a pivotal moment with airlines anticipating a surge in travel demand as borders reopened.

Their optimism was well-founded.

Not only in Thailand and India, but the global aviation industry is witnessing a robust resurgence this year, with air travel bouncing back vigorously.

Air India’s CEO, Campbell Wilson, speaking at an aviation event in Singapore recently, highlighted India’s vast potential.

“With its burgeoning population and strategic geographical position, India stands as a vastly underserved market ripe for expansion.”

Projections from Airbus suggest that India’s domestic aviation market could grow fivefold by 2042, making it one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, trailing only behind China and the US.

This growth story extends beyond India’s borders. Countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are also poised for significant aviation expansion. These emerging economies boast youthful populations with increasing disposable income, fueling a surge in air travel demand.

Governments in these regions are investing heavily in infrastructure to enhance connectivity, essential for countries spread across vast archipelagos like Indonesia and the Philippines.

While China remains a significant market, airlines are exploring alternative opportunities due to its economic slowdown and shifting consumer spending patterns. Michael Szucs, CEO of Cebu Pacific, sees immense potential in the Philippines, with its growing, educated population demonstrating an increasing inclination towards travel.

In India, Tata Group faces formidable competition from domestic rival Indigo and international giants like Emirates and Qatar Airways. Nevertheless, Tata has embarked on a journey to rejuvenate Air India, injecting millions into modernisation efforts, including fleet renewal and brand restructuring.

The conglomerate aims to integrate its five airlines under the Air India umbrella, envisioning a globally acclaimed carrier for international travellers and a reliable low-cost option for domestic passengers.

Wilson envisions Air India’s future as a global transit hub, akin to Dubai or Singapore. Despite challenges such as the slow reinstatement of long-haul routes post-pandemic, opportunities abound, particularly in leveraging Delhi’s strategic location to capture the growing air traffic within East and Southeast Asia.

Despite lingering uncertainties, the industry remains optimistic. With the pandemic receding, travellers are taking to the skies once more, propelling economic recovery and fueling the appetite for travel.

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