DALLAS — Thailand’s tourism industry has resumed full operations, attracting a diverse range of international visitors. A pre-pandemic established airline is preparing to launch this summer to improve the tourist experience. This airline is unique in that it will operate as a seaplane-based carrier.
In a conversation I held with Chief Business Officer, Dennis Keller, he gave us an insight into this venture. Despite the challenges faced in the regulatory and infrastructure domains, the company remains optimistic, with the delivery of its first aircraft already completed and the next two expected to arrive shortly.
SG: What’s the working model of Siam Seaplane, and the philosophy that started it?
DK: Behind Siam Seaplane, we have our holding group, Seaplane Asia, which we haven’t advertised as we start with Thailand as our first market. The original idea was that once we saw it grow and become a sustainable business, we would look at other markets.
We see a lot of potential not just in Thailand but the entire Asian region. It has taken us a while to develop in Thailand and COVID was in the way. Now we also have concrete interest from other markets if we can fly there, and we’re actively working on a couple of them right at this moment. So, our story will grow beyond just Thailand. We want to professionalize the seaplane market that has typically been operated on a much smaller scale, except for very few notable exceptions.
As your aim is to also go beyond Thailand, what nearby Asian countries are you considering now?
We evaluate all relevant markets in terms of feasibility and opportunity. There are neighboring countries to Thailand like Cambodia, but also obviously other markets in the region such as Indonesia that are very interesting to us. We have also seen demand from various stakeholders in Myanmar, but the political situation is challenging for the moment. These are just some examples.
Indonesia is a large country with several islands; where exactly?
They have so many potential hubs, be it Bali, Jakarta, Medan, West Sumatra, Papua, and so on. Some are relevant for tourism, others more for corporate. Overall accessibility is a big challenge that partially can be addressed with seaplanes.
Siam Seaplane Aiming Big
Siam Seaplane has formed partnerships with over 60 prestigious luxury hotels and resorts, including brands such as Intercontinental and Four Seasons.
These key alliances are crucial to the success of this distinctive service and have necessitated significant investments of time, money, and effort in establishing water landing sites and gaining the necessary approvals from multiple state departments and agencies. Despite these challenges, the company is actively working on establishing over 40 landing sites at present.
“Thailand is one of the top ten tourism destinations in the world with so much coastline, and we are offering a premium product that we think Thailand has missed.”
How and when was the idea born?
Our idea got its roots from one of our co-founders, who has a rich history in aviation; a pilot of the air force, an airline, and a private jet management expert. Besides him, a few like-minded people got together, and our idea was born based on an opportunity we believed in.
We thoroughly assessed if this is doable, and we believed it would work, although there would be several steps we would have to get done. And in 2019 we decided to go ahead and begin collaboration with the government.
Pre-pandemic, Thailand received over 40 million tourists, and Siam Seaplane saw a niche to offer a premium service. It took us two to three years to work closely with the government to ensure that it was safe to fly seaplanes around the country and that the relevant procedures would be developed to do so sustainably.
What type of aircraft are they, and when are they to be delivered?
The company has taken delivery of its first Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft and is now concluding its registration process. The launch of flights is imminent. In the coming months, the fleet will be further expanded with the addition of two more aircraft. The long-term plan is to operate a fleet of 15 aircraft in Thailand over the next five years.
So, what kind of operations do you start with now that the first plane is with you?
We start with ground-to-ground charter flights and scenic flights first. And, as water landing sites are put in place, a smooth transition into amphibious seaplane flying will kick off. We have the floats to our Caravan and can install them anytime; easily reconfigurable once we’re ready for regular seaplane ops.
When are you aiming to launch seaplane services?
That is looking very likely to come this summer.
Do you also plan to operate scheduled services?
For scheduled services, it will likely come, but not right now. We very much want to have the market confirm the demand on routes that make scheduled services a good choice; we let the market dictate. Initially charter only, some with resorts and some directly by passengers through our website and app.
What would be your primary base initially? Bangkok?
Siam Seaplane plans to establish two primary hubs, with the first located in Bangkok to serve the Gulf of Thailand, including destinations such as Koh Samui, with flight distances of up to approximately one-and-a-half hours.
The second hub, located in either Phuket or Krabi, will serve the Andaman Sea and southern Thailand. The company is also exploring the potential for additional hubs in the future.
Are the operating costs of the Caravans able to produce a viable margin?
I am pleased to share that the aircraft employed by Siam Seaplane is designed to be cost-effective while maintaining the highest standards of safety and comfort. It is important to note that operating a seaplane requires additional maintenance considerations, such as protection against corrosion and ensuring continuous access to spare parts.
Nevertheless, the company can generate acceptable margins by offering a premium service that is intended for the premium mass to the luxury market. The
interior of the aircraft will be configured to provide an experience akin to private jets while offering a price point that’s a fraction of the costs typically associated with such services.
Featured image: Siam Seaplane