Thai Summer Airways (9T, Utapao) is planning to begin commercial operations by the end of July 2022, two years later than planned as the COVID-19 pandemic halted the start-up's ambitions, Chief Executive Akkarapat Leechotphaisan told Smart Aviation Asia Pacific.

The leisure-focused charter specialist backed by Thai and Chinese travel industry entrepreneurs sees the opening of many countries in the region as a good opportunity to launch and capture pent-up demand. Its inaugural routes are likely to be to Hong Kong Int'l and Taipei Taoyuan out of Utapao, even though the former remains largely closed to international travel as it pursues a strict zero-COVID policy. In the future, the airline will also try to capture inbound contracts out of Macau Int'l, South Korea, Japan, and then India and Sri Lanka.

Mainland China - Thailand's main origin market before the pandemic - remains closed with its reopening still unclear. However, Akkaparat denied that Thai Summer Airways ever wanted to focus entirely on this market.

"We do not need to wait until China is opened to take to the skies," he stressed.

Despite prevailing border restrictions, Thai Summer Airways plans to gradually increase its network and fleet. It will launch with the only aircraft on its AOC at present, B737-800 HS-TSD (msn 34547), and plans to add another configured for up to 180 passengers by the end of the year. A third B737 is expected to follow in the second quarter of 2023.

With a fleet of three B737s, Thai Summer Airways hopes to enter mainland China with potential flights to Beijing, Shanghai Pudong, and Guangzhou.

Although Thai Summer Airways will launch in line with its original plan as a leisure-focused charter specialist, Akkaparat said scheduled flights using an LCC business model focussing on shorthaul international routes are also planned.

Akkaparat added that while Thai Summer Airways has no plans to enter the dedicated freighter niche, it would actively pursue opportunities in the cargo market with cargo-only flights out of Utapao and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi. It could add makeshift freighters, although Akkaparat did not specify whether the start-up would remove seats from its B737-800s or seek other aircraft.