Thai Airways International takes delivery of first Airbus A350 XWB

Melbourne will be the first city to welcome Thai Airways International's brand new Airbus A350 XWB aircraft, the airline's first. Scheduled to commence on 16 September, Thai Airways will operate a daily Melbourne-Bangkok service aboard the Airbus A350 XWB, replacing one of the Boeing 777-200s the airline currently flies on the route. This is the precursor to a twice-daily A350 XWB Melbourne-Bangkok service when the airline takes delivery of its second A350 in September.

Sydney is among the other cities slated for an A350 XWB service to Bangkok when Thai Airways expands its A350 fleet to 12 aircraft, scheduled to happen by the end of 2018.

In service only since January 2015, the A350 XWB – the initials stand for Extra Wide Body – is branded the world's most advanced twin-aisle aircraft, Airbus' response to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Pay offs for passengers Thai's 3-3-3 economy-configured A350 cabin include an 18-inch (46cm) seat width, one inch more than most economy-class seats. More than half the fuselage and wings of the A350 are made from carbon composite material, which allows for higher cabin pressure, about 2000 feet lower than the standard 8000 feet, which means more oxygen, and a more comfortable passenger experience.

Other pluses include the biggest overhead bins of any aircraft, allowing every passenger to stow a standard cabin-compliant case of maximum dimensions, a draught-free circulation system, 11-inch video screens on the inflight entertainment system and glowing LED lighting that enables the airline to curate its own colour scheme.  The A350 bills itself as the quietest passenger aircraft, aside from the giant A380 superjumbo. The A350 is six decibels quieter than the Boeing 787, a point the aircraft's marketing director Francois Obe was keen to emphasise to the international press hosted by Thai International at Toulouse on the delivery flight on 30 August.

The A350 is also the aircraft that in its future "Ultra Long Range" configuration holds the promise of non-stop flights from Australia to Western Europe. As well as long legs, one of the factors that facilitates this is regulatory approval for the aircraft to fly on just one engine for up to six hours, three hours more than usual, allowing it to operate over long overwater routes far from landing sites that might be required in case of an emergency diversion. "In its ULR variant, the A350 is capable of taking you right around the globe with just one stop on the way," according to Obe.

The A350 acquisition is part of a turnaround strategy for Thai, which lost $US700 million ($A931 million) in 2014 according to Thai Airways international president Charamporn Jotikasthira. The airline has suffered from a chaotic aircraft choice, passenger loads well below average and stubborn adherence to routes that were costing it millions of dollars every year. "2015 was the year we stopped bleeding," Jotikasthira said shortly before boarding the delivery flight from Toulouse to Bangkok.

Jotikasthira has taken the broom to the airline since he came on board at the end of 2014, streamlining the fleet with less aircraft types, selling off aircraft, cutting unprofitable routes and instituting an early retirement scheme.

Strategies to bring passengers back include an upgraded first and business class service, new routes such as a direct Frankfurt-Phuket service, a resumption of the service to Moscow and the revival of another to Tehran that was abandoned during the sanctions era – plus the new fleet of Airbus A350s.

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Jotikasthira also has ambitions to reposition Bangkok as the major hub for South-East Asia. "We're back," said Jotikasthira at a press conference at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, and the signs are hopeful, with Thai Airways International taking the Most Improved Airline gong at the Skytrax 2016 World Aircraft Awards.

Michael Gebicki travelled to Toulouse as a guest of Thai Airways.

See also: Airline Review: Thai Airways economy class

See also: Singapore's first A350 arrives in Australia for the first time

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