Thai Airways’ expanded fleet acquisition plan is progressing toward the final stages of government review before a major aircraft order can be placed, a senior airline executive said.

Thailand’s transportation ministry is considering the airline’s broader business strategy, which includes the fleet plan, Thai Airways EVP-corporate strategy and sustainable development Krittaphon Chantalitanon said. After this step, the plan will be submitted to the Thai cabinet for approval. It has already been assessed by other government departments.

If final approval is granted, the carrier will issue a request for proposals (RFP) to both Airbus and Boeing Chantalitanon said. The carrier is looking to order 38 aircraft, including widebody and narrowbody models.

The new aircraft will be primarily for replacement, but will also allow for “minor growth,” Chantalitanon said. Thai Airways wants the new aircraft to begin arriving in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The airline previously submitted an acquisition plan to the government that included the smaller total of 23 aircraft. However, the government returned it, asking for a review for better alignment with the carrier’s long-term strategy.

The revised acquisition total was larger because the fleet plan timeline was extended through 2026, versus 2024 in the previous submission. The extra two years meant more aircraft retirements had to be covered, Chantalitanon said.

Replacing older model aligns with “our strategy of [operating] cost-efficient aircraft and product positioning,” Chantalitanon said. For example, the airline intends to phase out the last of its Boeing 747-400s by 2022. Older Boeing 777 models are also set to be retired.

Thai’s fleet has been under extra strain recently because of the Boeing 787 groundings as a result of problems with Trent 1000 engines. The carrier still has one 787 grounded, but it is expected to be flying again in July, the airline’s technical EVP Surachai Piencharoensak said.

The airline has six 787-8s and two 787-9s in its fleet.

Adrian Schofield,