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Frankfurt first destination for Thai Airways A380, which may provide excess capacity

Frankfurt has been selected as the first destination for Thai Airways' Airbus A380, Thai President Piyasvasti Amranand tells CAPA. Thai will take delivery of its first A380 in Sep-2012 and then place the aircraft into service that month on the Bangkok-Frankfurt route. In 2013, as additional A380s are delivered, Thai will expand its A380 network to London Heathrow and Sydney.

Although Thai has previously said it expected to deploy its A380s to Europe and Australia, the comments from Mr Amranand are the first specific remarks on his carrier's A380 deployment. Thai has six A380s on order.

As CAPA reported in an analysis looking at the decreased short-term outlook at Thai as a result of the recent floods causing forward bookings to decrease:

Thai Airways already operates two daily flights to Frankfurt, London and Sydney. According to Innovata's schedule database, both Frankfurt and London flights are currently operated with B747-400s while the two Sydney flights are now operated with A340-600s. Thai Airways is expected to use the A380 for at least one daily frequency in each market.

If given the choice, Thai Airways would likely not move forward with its A380 order as it would be better off replacing B747-400s and A340s with medium-size widebody aircraft, allowing it to better match capacity with expected medium-term demand while maintaining frequency. But with Thai’s A380s already well into the production process, a cancellation of the order is no longer an option.

The ill-timed introduction of the A380s will likely pose a network dilemma for Thai Airways in 2H2012 and 2013. The carrier will have to choose between reducing frequency to Frankfurt, London and Sydney to one daily flight or increasing capacity as the A380 replaces B747s and A340s. Frequency reduction would not be Thai Airways' preference as having two flights in each market are needed for it maintain the connections within Asia and on the kangaroo route that it relies on to fill up its long-haul network. But retaining the existing level of frequencies as the A380s are delivered means increasing capacity at a time when Thai Airways is already struggling to fill up its B747-400s.

Read more: Thai Airways forward bookings and short-term outlook plummet due to Bangkok floods

Such a quandary and possibility of wrong aircraft selection are not new to the region; some place Malaysia Airlines in the same category of having ordered the A380 only to "catch up" to rival Singapore Airlines, even if the aircraft provides too much capacity. Malaysia Airlines, however, has shown itself willing to trade yield for a higher seat count and more revenue. Wrong aircraft selection is not exclusive to A380 operators; as recent B787 cancellations have shown, capacity and fleet needs change.

Thai will configure its A380s in a denser than normal layout of 507 seats: 435 in economy, 60 in business and 12 in first.

A380 operators seat configurations

Airline

First A380
delivery

A380s in service

Total
seats

First

Business

Premium
Economy

Economy

Singapore Airlines

Oct-2007

12

409

12

86

 

311

471

12

60

 

399

Emirates

Jul-2008

15

489

14

76

 

399

517

14

76

 

427

Korean Air

Jun-2011

4

407

12

94

 

301

Lufthansa

May-2010

8

526

8

98

 

420

Qantas

Sep-2008

10

450

14

72

32

332

Air France

Oct-2009

6

516

9

80

38

389

538

9

80

 

449

China Southern

Oct-2011

-

506

8

70

 

428

Malaysia Airlines

2Q2012*

-

508

8

54

 26

420

Thai Airways

Sep-2012*

-

507

12

60

 

435

Skymark Airlines

2014*

-

394

 

114

280

 

Air Austral

2014*

-

“around 840”

       

Transaero

2015+*

-

~700