Kan Air offers VIP flights on a budget

Travelling by executive jet is no longer the exclusive preserve of billionaires, celebrities and other VIPs, as a new commuter airline launches service at fares rivaling budget airlines.

Kan Air, a privately owned commuter airline, made this possible last Friday when it launched two interprovincial routes from its Chiang Mai base to Ubon Ratchathani and Hua Hin.

The two non-stop routes are served on a scheduled basis, every Friday and Sunday, by the Hawker Beechcraft Premier I, a six-seat luxury executive jet that Kan Air normally avails for charter services for elite travellers at a price.

The service, the first of its kind in t0he country, comes with what some aviation executives consider ridiculously low fares given the exclusivity, speed and comfort unmatched by commercial airlines.

The fares are as little as 2,990 baht net each way for the first two booked seats on a flight and 3,490 baht for the four other seats.

The fare structures are the same for both the Chiang Mai-Ubon Ratchathani and the Chiang Mai-Hua Hin routes, each of which takes 90 minutes to fly.

Kan Air will launch a third route next Monday, from Bangkok's Don Mueang airport to Tak's Mae Sot district.

The one-way fares for Don Mueang-Mae Sot, which will take 45 minutes, are 1,590 baht net each for the first two booked seats on the flight and 1,790 baht for the four other seats.

Such fares are close to those charged by budget airline Nok Air, which operates scheduled flights on that particular sector with ageing ATR 72 turboprop aircraft with 70 seats.

Somphong Sooksanguan, president of Kannithi Aviation, operator of Kan Air, said deploying the executive jet on the three secondary domestic routes was not to make money.

"The minimum cost of operating a Premier I flight alone on those first two routes is about 50,000 baht," he told the Bangkok Post.

The executive jet flights are instead mainly to introduce these routes to the travelling public ahead of the full-blown service that Kan Air intends to launch in the coming months.

Use of the Premier I is also meant to maintain the validity of the permit granted by the Civil Aviation Department to the airline to operate flights on these routes.

The department requires an airline to operate commercial flights on a route within six months of it being granted.

"In addition, the deployment of the Premier I and the associated low fares offer ordinary travellers a rare opportunity to experience private jet flights," Mr Somphong said. "It's a way to return profits to the passengers."

However, the scheduled Premier I jet service will be available only temporarily before it returns to its main function — VIP charter and use by Kan Air's founder.

Kan Air plans to replace the Premier I on the three routes with ATR 72-500 turboprop aircraft, starting in the second half of next month.

The airline is due to take delivery of the first of two turboprops leased from Nordic Aviation Capital Pte, a Singapore aircraft leasing firm, next month, with the second aircraft, also configured with 66 seats, due in November.

The ATR aircraft will be instrumental to Kan Air's move to consolidate its network to cover more secondary domestic routes that appear to be underserved but offer good traffic demand potential.

Kan Air's expansion is seen as filling the vacuum left by the defunct Nok Mini, which threw in the towel in March.

It will also pitch against Nok Air, which has the largest secondary domestic route network.

In addition to the three new routes initially served by the Premier I jet, Kan Air will open a fourth new sector later this year — Don Mueang-Surin.

These are in addition to its six older routes from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, Pai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Khon Kaen and Phitsanulok, all served by its other aircraft, a single-engine Cessna Grand Caravan 208B with 12 seats.

Kan Air plans to ramp up the frequencies on the new routes when the ATR 72-500s enter its fleet.

For instance, it will offer a daily flight between Chiang Mai and the easternmost province of Ubon Ratchathani, the route that no-frills carrier Thai AirAsia pulled out of a few years ago due to lower than expected demand.

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