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Hottest airlines

  Phuket City

Leading the bunch is AirAsia, the world's lowest cost producer of airline seat kilometres (ASKS: an industry measure capturing the total passenger flight capacity). It's described by CAPA as a "mouth watering airline to watch for airports, suppliers and competitor airlines in 2011". AirAsia X, the long haul version, is also growing with it being granted rights by the Malaysian government to 36 destinations and already expanded to cities like Tehran, Iran Tokyo, Japan several Chinese cities Paris, France Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Sydney, Australia and Christchurch, New Zealand. An application to fly to New York City has also been lodged.

Jetstar, the Qantas low cost carrier (LCC), is described by CAPA as a "growing jewel in the Qantas crown." It flies to Phuket from Adelaide, Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth, Cairns, Hobart, Sydney, Canberra and Lauceston in Australia, boosting the island's low season tourist numbers during the Australian winter.

Virgin Blue is Australia's second largest airline and is undergoing a radical overhaul into a more corporate entity under the new leadership of John Borgetti, a former Qantas senior executive. Launched in 2000 it has been transformed to become a hybrid LCC targeting higher yielding corporate traffic, according to CAPA. It will be an interesting airline to watch from Phuket's perspective, as the island is definitely not a corporate destination, being mainly tourist traffic. Virgin Blue's V Australia long haul service stopped in February, but direct flights from Perth on Pacific Blue, another LCC, maintain its links with Phuket.

Tiger Airways from Singapore is one of the most interesting airlines to watch in relation to Phuket. It's going through a tortuous joint venture process to form Thai Tiger Airlines with Thai Airways International that is caught in political intrigue. It's one of the lower cost operators in Asia Pacific and, according to CAPA, has the potential to become one of the three large non-flag carrier operations, along with AirAsia and Jetstar.

Korean Air is, a well established 'legacy' carrier, is undergoing record traffic levels and is in expansion mode, so Phuket should figure in its plans given the large number of Korean tourists, especially honeymooners, who travel to the island. Malaysian Airlines is in the same category, with rapid growth predicted. It's one of the lowest cost commercial airlines flying into Phuket.

These are just the main airlines identified by CAPA on its 'hottest' list, but there are many other excellent airlines servicing the island from other regions that also make the list. For example in the European section, CAPA names Aeroflot from Moscow as a leading voice in consolidation of the Russian airline industry. Aeroflot flies thousands of Russians to Phuket every year. In fact, many local business people have been heard to remark in recent times, "Thank God for the Russians!"

Others in this group include Air Berlin, the largest single carrier servicing Phuket with international flights, which is a major charter and commercial carrier. From the Middle East, Qatar Airways, one of the most rapidly expanding airlines in the world, opened flights from its Doha base directly to Phuket via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in late 2010 and China Hainan Airlines, a growing southern China airline, also started direct flights via Beijing. It's pursuing a global expansion strategy, of which Phuket is part.

Outside of these 'hottest list' airlines, other major carriers servicing Phuket include SilkAir from Singapore Asiana Airlines, South Korea Dragonair from Hong Kong Condor, from Europe Firefly from Malaysia and TUIfly, a charter from Sweden.

Emirates Challenges The latest global top 25 airline rankings in March, 2011 placed Thai Airways at 21st, up one place from 22nd in March, 2010, but it's the rise and rise of Emirates from Dubai that is the most notable change.

Emirates are now the third ranked airline, up one from last year, behind Delta (1) and American Airlines (2). In 2009 it was seventh in overall rankings, but No 1 for international passengers flown.

The important point is that Emirates has no domestic market, whereas the top two ranked airlines have huge domestic markets to rely on. Another interesting point is Southwest Airlines, the original low cost carrier, maintaining its 5th ranking and Ryanair, the trail blazer LCC in Europe, leaping from 20th to 16th place. Turkish Airlines went from no ranking in 2010 to 24th in March.

Star Alliance, led by Lufthansa, United Airlines, Continental, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways was ranked the top alliance, growing a very large 10.6% with the addition of several new carriers, taking its share of global airline capacity to 26.1%. However, unaligned airlines still account for more capacity at 27.9%. This grouping includes all of the Middle Eastern (ME)airlines, including Emirates, and the Virgin Group, which appears to be forging relationships with ME airlines and others to create a fourth alliance.

Oneworld, led by British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay and Qantas have 14.2% share and SkyTeam, led by Air France/KLM, Aeroflot, Alitalia, Delta and Korean Air, have 15.8%.

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