It’s been five years since six Thai Airways A340-600s were taken out of service and parked at Pattaya’s U-Tapao airport – 147km outside of Bangkok. According to Forbes, the aircraft have been accumulating maintenance charges as they wait for a buyer to take them from the airline. But now, the Thai government is advising the Thai flag carrier to consider putting these quadjets back into service after an update of the cabin interior.
Old planes, new plans?
Forbes goes on to report that Thai management has been evaluating fleet options since September, when the airline’s board rejected a plan to buy 38 aircraft. With the airline sitting on a US$3.2 billion debt with growing losses the board is keen to reduce upfront costs.
The suggestion of bringing these jets back comes from Deputy Minister of Transport Thaworn Sennam. He adds that the airline should evaluate retrofitting the A340-600s with new interiors and then assigning the aircraft to long-haul routes.
Originally, Thai had planned to operate the A340-600s into the 2020s. However, this was changed in 2015 as they were scheduled for retirement and then sale. Apparently finding a buyer has not been so easy.
Challenges to the plan
Here are just some of the issues with the cabin that Thai would face in bringing back the A340s into their fleet:
- The aircraft need their interior updated for Thai to have a chance of generating profitable yields.
- Thai’s A340-600s are in their “original configuration”: angled lie-flat seats without direct aisle access in business class.
- This contrasts with Thai’s newer planes – A380s, A350s and 777-300ERs – which all have lie-flat business class seats with direct aisle access.
- Changing aircraft interiors can take over a year. This is because of procurement, then manufacturing, finally followed by installation, all at a high cost.
In addition to cabin renewal challenges, there are the challenges of higher operating costs as the A340-600 is an older and less efficient design compared to the newer aircraft that Thai wants to buy or lease. This is because the A340-600 has four engines compared to newer twin-engine designs.
How serious is the suggestion?
The re-activation of the A340-600s is still uncertain. In fact, Forbes adds that Thai’s A340-500 and -600s are a contentious issue for the airline’s influential cabin crew union.
In fact, the group sees the aircraft as an example of “management incompetence: expensive assets used briefly and then idled for years with no sale prospects”.
We will try to keep on top of this issue – waiting to see if the airline goes ahead with the plan.
How would you feel about Thai bringing back their A340s? They may not be the most fuel-efficient aircraft but a new and refreshed cabin sounds like it would provide a great experience for travelers! Let us know what you think in the comments.