Thailand's Phuket Airlines eyes expansion despite setbacks

BANGKOK (XFNews) - Phuket Airlines said it is considering expanding with new domestic and international routes after a year-long slump.

The struggling airline has experienced a series of blows and setbacks including a ban by France over safety concerns, high fuel costs and the Dec 2004 tsunami which caused foreign arrivals to plummet.

After cutting routes last May to reverse badly-timed expansion plans, it is now considering launching flights to neighboring countries and new routes connecting regional locations in Thailand.

"We have to focus on less-competitive routes if we decide to go for expansion. A final decision on such a move will be made by the middle of this year," said the airline's sales manager Aree Laohavich.

"Given our financial status, we are not in a position to compete with prices now being offered by budget airlines," she told Agence France-Presse.
 The airline currently only flies to one domestic and one international destination -- Myanmar, down from the 10 domestic and six international flights it offered at its peak.

"The potential flights we are considering are routes linking regions in Thailand, such as the north-eastern region with northern provinces. So far, no airline is serving this particular route," Aree said.

"Also, we are studying the details of having a few more routes linking with neighboring countries."

Aree said the carrier will continue to focus on charter flights rather than scheduled services to ensure more stable returns. Currently charter flights contribute 70 pct of total revenue.

Phuket Airlines reportedly laid off one-third of its 600 staff last April. In August it was named on a list of carriers banned from French airspace due to safety concerns. 

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