Thai Lion Air (TLA) yesterday roared off on its maiden commercial flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai as it now has firmed up its aggressive network plan and expedited fleet enlargement.

The no-frills carrier controlled by Indonesian giant Lion Group last week obtained a final clearance from Indonesian and Malaysian aviation authorities to operate regular flights from its Don Mueang airport base in Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

The two cities represent the TLA’s first international foray, and scheduled services bound for Kuala Lumpur at one daily and to Jakarta twice daily were confirmed to commence on Dec 18.

On the Thai domestic front, TLA has decided to begin flights to Hat Yai and Krabi in February and March next year, to be followed by Udon Thani and Ubol Ratchathani.

Its flights to Singapore and Hong Kong are expected to start in the second quarter of next year, with May the earliest possibility.

With its initial network expansion clearly defined, the airline decided to bring forward the deliveries of two additional Boeing 737-900ERs from March-February, said chief executive Darsito Hendroseputro.

Towards the end of next year, TLA will have 10 of these jets in service, while delivery dates of additional aircraft next year will be timed to match the traffic demand, said Tawan Thianthgong, TLA’s director of engineering.

Rusdi Kirana, co-founder and chief executive of Lion Air Group, earlier said TLA’s fleet of the US-made narrow-body jet will grow by an average of 10 a year to reach 50 in its fifth year.

Mr Tawan said TLA has been pleased with the market response so far to the airline’s inroads into the Thai market, with more than 20,000 tickets sold since its sales campaign was kicked off in the third week of last month.

TLA is pricing fares very aggressively. Capt Darsito said TLA’s consistently low fares means people have the freedom to fly when they want, thus helping with the airline’s marketing plan.

But despite strong sales, Mr Tawan said TLA’s sales could have been even more robust if not for the political tensions in Bangkok.Yesterday’s inaugural flight from Don Mueang to Chiang Mai was a few passengers short of the 737-900ER’s capacity of 215, with some passengers paying only 600 baht net for a one-way trip.

TLA operates twice daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Because parent Lion Group purchased aircraft by the hundreds and these new-generation jets are brand new, fuel-efficient and more capable in terms of seating capacity, TLA has had cost advantages and is able to offer such low fares, Mr Tawan said.

Photo Credit: Promotional materials from Thai Lion Air. Thai Lion Air