It’s more bad news for fans of four-engined jumbos and First Class cabins this week, with Star Alliance member Thai Airways confirming that it will significantly shrink its fleet and workforce as part of a rehabilitation exercise to help it survive the COVID-19 downturn.
The beleaguered carrier, which is in the process of finalising its debt restructuring programme, will not return three aircraft types into service, comprising:
- 6 Airbus A380s
- 15 Airbus A330s
- 7 Boeing 747s
The airline will also lay off 395 of its 1,300 pilots, around a 30% cut, to right-size its workforce for a reduced fleet and operation post-pandemic, according to reports by The Nation.
Thai’s financial woes
Even before COVID-19, Thai’s financial situation was precarious. The airline had struggled to counter competition from Middle East carriers on lucrative routes to and from Europe and from low-cost carriers closer to home over recent years.
That led to Thai being unprofitable for all but one of the seven consecutive years before COVID-19, and the need for government bailouts in the past.
In June 2020, we reported how Thai had suspended its members’ use of Royal Orchid Miles to redeem on Star Alliance and partner airlines, in addition to hotel and selected lifestyle awards, to help plug cash payments to partners for new bookings.
That situation continues to this day, though Royal Orchid Plus miles can still be used to redeem Thai Airways and Thai Smile flights. Unfortunately, apart from domestic services, Thai’s operating schedules remain very limited with just 10 international destinations served at the time of writing.
Thai Airways future fleet
This latest element of Thai’s restructuring will leave the carrier focused on its more efficient Airbus A350, Boeing 787 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft for its future fleet, also leaving the future of its First Class cabin in doubt.
It’s a far cry from the carrier’s pre-pandemic fleet, which at January 2020 boasted no fewer than six different aircraft types (10 if you counted all the variants).
|Aircraft Type||Total in Fleet|
The post-COVID fleet includes three brand new 777-300ER aircraft Thai had ordered from Boeing, which are tentatively due for delivery in 2021.
Additionally, full-service regional division Thai Smile operates a fleet of 20 Airbus A320s.
It’s more bad news for the A380
While Boeing 747s were falling out of favour for passenger use even before the pandemic, it’s fair to say the aircraft type airlines have fast realised simply won’t work as part of their future fleets is the Airbus A380.
Among 15 global operators of the superjumbo as of early 2020, three have already either permanently retired their entire A380 fleets, or announced their intention to do so:
- Air France
- Hi Fly Malta
Question marks also hang over future A380 operation at Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, though some airlines remain at least partially wedded to the type, including Emirates and Qantas.
Where are Thai’s A380s now?
Four of Thai’s six-strong fleet of Airbus A380s are still parked at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, with the remaining two relocated to nearby U-Tapao Airport, close to Rayong and Pattaya, in mid-April 2020.
The final Thai Airways Airbus A380 passenger flight was TG921 from Frankfurt to Bangkok, flown by aircraft registration HS-TUC, touching down back at the carrier’s home base at 6.08am on 2nd April 2020.
Is it farewell First Class?
As part of the carrier’s original plans, three new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft originally due to be delivered this year were set to be fitted with Thai’s Royal First Class cabin, for deployment on premium-heavy routes.
This was designed to account for the retirement of the Boeing 747-400 fleet, which had been brought forward to 2020 from 2024.
Without any Airbus A380s or Boeing 747s in its future fleet, it’s no longer clear whether Thai intends to fit these three aircraft with First Class seats, since that would represent a very small sub-fleet, potentially meaning the product could only be offered on a single route (e.g. Bangkok to London).
The exact cabin product proposed for this trio of jets remains under wraps, though it was likely to closely resemble the recent iteration of the airline’s most exclusive cabin, as fitted to the Boeing 747-400s.
Ultimately there is a strong likelihood that Thai will abandon its First Class cabins as a result of the restructuring due to COVID-19.
It’s sad, though not unsurprising, that Thai Airways is taking the option to retire its six Airbus A380s. These enormous jets, which have a capacity for 507 passengers in the Thai configuration, only make sense to operate in times of high demand.
This will make Thai the fourth carrier to completely withdraw the type from service during the COVID-19 pandemic, though with Etihad and Qatar Airways keeping the same option on the table for their own superjumbo fleets, it’s unlikely to be the last of the ‘early retirements’.
As far as First Class is concerned, it’s hard to see a realistic prospect for this cabin class in the future Thai Airways fleet, despite it being the airline’s intention for three upcoming brand new Boeing 777-300ER deliveries.
That’s a shame of course, since it likely means one less First Class option to redeem among Star Alliance airline carriers in the years to come.
(Cover Photo: Airbus)