Nok Air's planned resumption of international flights will focus solely on Myanmar, where it plans to capture a new travel segment largely untapped by other airlines.
The Thai budget airline wants to penetrate various Myanmar cities by staging flights from Thai provincial airports in Mae Sot, Chiang Mai and Ranong, said deputy chief executive Piya Yodmani.
Nok Air now looks set to commence its Myanmar flights with its first route from the northwestern Thai city of Mae Sot to Mawlamyine, the town previously known as Moulmein, in September. That route should be followed shortly after by flights from Mae Sot to Yangon, then from Don Mueang to Yangon in the fourth quarter.
Other routes include Chiang Mai to Mandalay and Bagan.
The airline intends to deploy the Saab 340B turboprop, capable of carrying 34 passengers and operated by Nok Mini, an affiliated airline with separate ownership, on those Myanmar routes except Bangkok-Yangon.
Bangkok-Yangon will be serviced by a Boeing 737-800 jet with 189 seats to compete with the host of airlines already operating on the route with narrow-body jets like Airbus 320s, said Nok Air executives.
By staging their flights to Myanmar from cities other than Bangkok, Nok Air hopes to capture the market segments that its arch rival Thai AirAsia (TAA) cannot.
The B737-800 is much more expensive to operate than the Saab 340B and has a lot more seats to fill, but Nok Air's approach to Myanmar is different from TAA aggressive volume strategy using the 180-seat A320 jet to fly from Don Mueang to Yangon and Mandalay, with services to Bagan and capital Nay Pyi Taw on its radar.
Nok Air is being more cautious as it re-enters the international market, and Mr Piya has made clear the airline remains focused on growing its business domestically so as not to repeat the 2008 financial woes resulting from an aggressive international campaign to Vietnam and India.
"We will only offer international routes we are certain will be profitable," he said.
Mr Piya cited its limited jet capacity as a reason for putting previously favored Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City on the back burner as Nok Air wants to focus on the fast-growing demand for domestic flights.
The airline has nine propellers in its fleet pool: four ATR 72s (66-70 seats each) and five Saab 340Bs, which can support its secondary and feeder route expansion strategy.
This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post on May 16, 2013.