Nok Air (DD, Bangkok Don Mueang) is concretising plans to open a base at the country's main international gateway, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, as it seeks to pivot away from its sole reliance on domestic passenger flows, Chief Executive Wutthiphum Jurangkool told the Bangkok Post.

The new base is tentatively planned to launch in the second half of 2024 and will initially be limited to one or two aircraft only. Nok Air plans to capitalise on the cooperation with minority shareholder Thai Airways International (TG, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi) to carry the flag carrier's passengers on domestic routes out of Suvarnabhumi. Wutthiphum said their current interline partnership could be upgraded to a codeshare in the future.

Wutthiphum believes that even with the integration of its domestic and short-haul subsidiary Thai Smile, the flag carrier does not have enough aircraft to serve the Thai domestic market. Its narrowbody fleet currently comprises twenty A320-200s, but the aircraft serve also regional international markets - currently, only 57.9% of Thai's A320s scheduled capacity is deployed on domestic routes, according to the ch-aviation capacities module. Thai Airways used to deploy its mainline widebodies on trunk domestic routes, mainly to Chiang Mai and Phuket, before the pandemic, but has not resumed them since.

Thai Airways used to have as much as a 49% stake in Nok Air in 2011 but has since reduced it to its current level of 13.28%. The low-cost carrier is majority owned by the Jurangkool family, whose members hold a 74.96% shareholding.

Nok Air is currently one of two Thai low-cost carriers with no footprint at Suvarnabhumi, alongside Thai Lion Air. Thai VietJetAir and Thai AirAsia X operate exclusively from the main airport, while Thai AirAsia serves both Suvarnabhumi and Bangkok Don Mueang.

Despite its plans to enter Bangkok's main airport, Nok Air plans to grow its network from Don Mueang as well with growth there focussing on more international routes to regional destinations, including India and China.

"To make a profit, it's almost impossible to rely solely on domestic routes. With only 5% of revenue from international routes, comprising three cities in China [Nanning, Zhengzhou, and Chengdu Tianfu] and one in India [Hyderabad International], we have to expand internationally to earn a higher yield, increasing this portion to 10%, as it was in 2019," Wutthiphum said.

To support its growth, the airline plans to add three B737-800s to its current fleet of fourteen shortly. Previous plans included adding eight B737-800s in 2024.

Nok Air dropped its direct order for six B737-8s in 2021 but planned to lease aircraft of the type starting in 2025. Wutthiphum said that given the MAX's ongoing quality issues, the LCC will carefully evaluate its decision and study passengers' confidence in the type.

As previously reported, the LCC is pursuing capital raises to fund its restructuring. Wutthiphum said Nok Air will ask its shareholders for a further THB600 million baht (USD16.8 million) in 2024.