Airbus and Thailand have been enduring partners for more than 40 years, beginning with Thai Airways International’s (THAI) order for the cornerstone A300B4 wide-body jetliner. Since then, the country has become an important customer base in the Asia-Pacific region across the company’s commercial aircraft, defence, space and helicopter product lines.
Thailand also is the location of an Airbus Flight Operations Services Centre and a regional helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre. In 2017, Airbus signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with THAI to evaluate the development of a major new commercial aircraft maintenance and overhaul facility in the country.
The European aircraft manufacturer has had a long-term relationship with Thailand, where Airbus jetliners currently are flying with the country’s major carriers. Operating on everything from short domestic hops to medium and long-haul flights within Asia and to Europe, the aircraft in service include Airbus’ best-selling single-aisle A320 Family, the popular wide-body A330, the A350 XWB and the A380.
Airbus’ relationship with Thailand began in April 1977, when Thai Airways International placed its first order for the A300B4. In doing so, the airline became one of the company’s earliest customers. Over the years, THAI ordered and operated a total of 33 A300s.
In May 1990, THAI ordered the follow-on twin-engine wide-body A330-300. Its first A330 entered service on regional routes in December 1994, and the airline has since ordered 27 such aircraft, with 17 of them in service as of 2018.
THAI took a major step in its long-term fleet expansion plan in December 2004 by placing an order for six A380s. The carrier took delivery of its first flagship aircraft in September 2012. All six A380s were delivered for operation on THAI’s premier routes from Bangkok to Tokyo, London, Paris and Frankfurt.
In August 2011, THAI selected two new aircraft types from Airbus to meet its future requirements. This comprised firm orders for four A350-900s and five A320s. In addition, the airline leased eight additional A350-900s. As of December 2018, 12 A350-900s had been delivered to the carrier.
Bangkok Airways became Thailand’s second Airbus operator in September 2004 when it introduced aircraft from the A320 Family. In 2018, the carrier’s Airbus fleet had grown to 24 aircraft, comprising 15 A319s and nine A320s.
In October 2007, Thai AirAsia, the Bangkok-based affiliate of the AirAsia Group, received its first A320. By 2018, the low-cost carrier’s fleet comprised 60 A320s, including nine A320neo, operated on its domestic and regional networks.
Airbus is the leader in Thailand’s civil and parapublic helicopter segment with a 42% market share. A wide range of Airbus-built helicopters, spanning the single-engine H125 to the heavy Super Puma Family, are in service in the country – performing missions that include emergency medical services (EMS), VVIP transport, corporate flights and commercial charter operations.
In the military rotorcraft segment, Airbus has seen significant growth in Thailand with more than 30 helicopters operated by Thailand’s army, air force and navy. This includes the H225M Super Puma – the latest member of Airbus' military Super Puma/Cougar family – which is in service with the Royal Thai Air Force.
Airbus established a Thai helicopter services unit in 2008, focusing on civil and military maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and technical assistance for customers in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. In 2018, the company signed an agreement with Thai Aviation Industries (TAI) that will see the latter support all Airbus helicopter models that are in service with the country’s military and law enforcement agencies.
Airbus military fixed-wing aircraft have been in service in Thailand for more than a decade. The Royal Thai Army operates a C295 turboprop-powered aircraft for cargo and troop transport missions, while the Thai police utilise the CN235 for passenger transport and parachute training. In addition, Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture operates C212 light aircraft, primarily used on rainmaking missions.
Thailand’s THEOS-1 Earth observation satellite, developed and built by Airbus, was launched in 2008. This satellite, which continued to deliver high quality imagery in 2018 (four years after its expected end of life), is used for missions including agricultural and coastal monitoring, forestry management and flood risk management.
In June 2018, Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) picked Airbus as its partner for its next-generation geo-information system THEOS-2. The wide-ranging agreement includes two Earth observation satellites, an integrated geo-information system, a ground segment and a comprehensive local capacity building programme.
THEOS-2 will be based on Airbus’ AstroBus-S satellite, which can deliver 0.5-meter ground resolution imagery, and is scheduled to be launched in 2020. This will allow Thailand to join a small circle of nations with sovereign access to very high-resolution geostrategic information. A complementary small satellite system will be assembled and tested in-country by Thai engineers to deliver technology transfer and will involve local suppliers. This will be supplemented by an extensive training scheme capitalising on Airbus’ comprehensive geo-intelligence expertise and will further develop Thailand’s geo-spatial industry.
The company opened its new Airbus Flight Operations Services Centre in Bangkok during 2015. This centre produces electronic versions of the standard flight operations manuals for all Airbus aircraft types, as well as data customisation services for individual airlines.
In September 2015, Airbus announced a new spare parts service agreement with Triumph Aviation Services Asia, which is based in Chonburi Province, Thailand. The contract covers the inspection, test, repair, overhaul and modification of proprietary airframe structures for the A320, the A330 and the A340 jetliners operated by carriers in the Asia-Pacific region. These include such elements as rudders, elevators, wing tip devices, flaps and slats.
Triumph was selected in 2017 to supply composite rudder parts for the Airbus A350 XWB via a contract with Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre Company (HHACMC), which assembles the A350’s rudder in Harbin, China.
Airbus signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in March 2017 with Thai Airways International to study the development of a major new maintenance and overhaul facility at U-Tapao International Airport near Bangkok. In June 2018, Airbus and THAI signed an agreement to set up a joint venture for this project. The new MRO facility, which will be located at the heart of Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), will be one of the most modern and extensive in the Asia-Pacific region, offering heavy maintenance and line services for all wide-body aircraft types.
It will feature the latest digital technologies to analyse aircraft maintenance data, as well as advanced inspection techniques, including the use of drones to monitor aircraft airframes. The campus will also include specialised repair shops, including one for composite structures, as well as a maintenance training centre offering extensive courses for technical personnel from Thailand and overseas.