Airbus and Thailand have been enduring partners for more than 40 years, beginning with Thai Airways International’s (THAI) order for the original A300B4. 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.
The European aircraft manufacturer has had a long-term relationship with Thailand, where Airbus aircraft are operated by the country’s major carriers. These include the best-selling single aisle A320 Family, the popular widebody A330, the new A350 XWB and the A380.
Airbus’ relationship with Thailand began in April 1977, when THAI placed its first order for the original A300B4. In doing so, the airline became one of the company’s earliest customers. As of September 2020, the carrier ordered and operated a total of 33 A300s.
In May 1990, THAI first ordered the twin-engine widebody A330-300s. Its first A330 entered into service on regional routes in December 1994, and the airline has since ordered 27 such aircraft.
THAI took a major step in its long-term fleet expansion plan in December 2004 by placing an order for six A380s. It took delivery of its first A380 in September 2012 and the six aircraft have been operated on THAI’s premier routes from Bangkok to Frankfurt, London, Osaka, Tokyo and Paris.
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 A320 aircraft. In addition, the airline had eight additional A350-900s on lease. As of September 2020, 12 A350-900s have been delivered to the carrier. Thai Smile, THAI’s regional subsidiary, has 20 A320s in its fleet.
In September 2004, Bangkok Airways became the second Airbus operator in Thailand when it introduced the A320 Family aircraft. Today the carrier’s Airbus fleet has grown to more than 20 aircraft, including A319s and A320s.
In October 2007 Thai AirAsia, the Bangkok-based affiliate of the AirAsia Group, received its first A320. Today, the low-cost carrier has a fleet of 64 A320s, including 10 A320neo. Thai AirAsia received its first two A321neo in January 2020. Meanwhile, AirAsia X Thailand, the medium and long-haul low-cost airline, has 14 A330s, including two A330neo.
Thai Lion Air, the Thai unit of Lion Air Group, received its first three A330-300s in November 2017 and took delivery of two other A330-300s in December 2017. In September 2021, the low-cost carrier added two A330-900s in its fleet, operating them on regional routes.
Today, the manufacturer’s full commercial range of helicopters is flying in the country, ranging from the single intermediate engine H125 to the heavy H225. Leading the country’s civil and parapublic segment, Airbus’ helicopters are utilised for emergency medical services, search and rescue, VVIP transport, tourism, corporate flights, and commercial charter operations.
Notably in the aeromedical segment, Airbus works closely with the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand and government agencies to develop a robust ecosystem for point-to-point helicopter emergency medical services.
Specifically in the parapublic segment, the Royal Thai Police operated two super medium H175 and five H155 for passenger transportation as of September 2020, and two AS365 N3+ for search and rescue missions.
In the military helicopter segment, Airbus’ helicopters have been deployed in Thailand military forces for various missions. The Royal Thai Army first procured eight H125M in 2011 for armed reconnaissance. Building on this success, a fleet of six UH-72 Lakota was added two years later through the US’ Foreign Military Sale programme, followed by an order of six H145 as light utility helicopters.
The Royal Thai Air Force currently operates eight H225M helicopters for combat search and rescue missions, with four additional H225M to join the fleet in 2021. It also recently placed an order of six H135 light-twin helicopters for pilot training. With delivery scheduled for 2021, the H135 will form the foundation of the Air Force’s modernised training system.
As of September 2020, the Royal Thai Navy operated a fleet of five H145M as transport helicopters, while the Royal Thai Armed Forces operated two multi-mission H155.
In the military aircraft segment, Airbus’ assets have been in service in Thailand for the last decade. The Royal Thai Army operates C295 turboprop aircraft for parachuting training, cargo and troop transport missions, while the Thai police operates the CN235 for passenger transport. In addition, Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture operates C212 light aircraft primarily on rainmaking missions.
The company also developed and built Thailand’s THEOS-1 Earth observation satellite, which was launched in 2008. This satellite, which continues to deliver high quality imagery five 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’ S450 optical satellite, which can deliver 0.5m ground resolution imagery, and is scheduled to be launched in 2021. 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 programme will be supplemented by an extensive training scheme capitalising on Airbus’ comprehensive geo-intelligence expertise, and will further develop Thailand’s geo-spatial industry.
Airbus has been present in Thailand with a representative office based in Bangkok since the 1990s. The company opened a helicopter customer centre in 2008, focusing on civil and military maintenance, repair and overhaul services and technical assistance for customers in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The company remains the only helicopter manufacturer with a maintenance facility in Thailand today.
In January 2015, the company opened its new Airbus Flight Operations Services Centre in Bangkok. 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 airframe structures for A320, A330 and A340 aircraft operated by carriers in the Asia-Pacific region. These include structures such as rudders, elevators, wing tip devices, flaps and slats.
In 2017, Triumph was selected to supply composite rudder parts for the Airbus A350 XWB. This was via a contract with Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre Company (HHACMC), which assembles the A350 XWB’s rudder in Harbin, China.
In the same year, the company also signed a partnership agreement with Thai Aviation Industries (TAI) for the support of all the country’s governmental helicopter fleets. This partnership was extended in 2020, with TAI becoming Airbus’ sale and completion centre for all governmental helicopters in the country.