28 May 2024

Five years after stepping down as chief executive of budget carrier Nok Air, Patee Sarasin is making a comeback in Thailand’s aviation industry by launching his own carrier.

Really Cool Airlines is the name of the newcomer in an industry badly damaged by the pandemic and still climbing back to pre-crisis levels.

“We are thrilled to introduce Really Cool Airlines and look forward to providing travellers with an exceptional flying experience,” Patee said at the March 22 press conference to launch his new brainchild.

Veteran in aviation industry

The industry veteran revealed his plans to set up the new long-haul airline, with flight routes set to be announced in June followed by the inaugural flight in December.

The Bangkok-based airline will be marketed as a full-service “lifestyle carrier”, aiming to offer a unique experience to passengers that falls between luxury and budget carriers, Patee explained. Its slogan is “We Fly the Future”.

Really Cool Airlines will initially operate with two leased Airbus A330 aircraft, with two more planes set to be added next year. It will target international passengers, which account for 70% of Thailand’s air travellers, with potential routes serving Australia, China, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The new airline will focus mainly on international routes to avoid competition with well-established domestic carriers, said Patee, who is helming the operation as chief executive.

The new carrier’s parent company is RC Airlines Co Ltd, which was founded on March 2 with registered capital of 200 million baht. Patee is the parent firm’s founder and one of its three directors.

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Doing only ‘cool things’

Appearing on a TV talk show in late March, the 61-year-old said the airline is adopting new technologies and innovative ideas to help reduce operating costs and increase passenger comfort.

“I won’t do something if it’s not cool,” he told the program’s host, explaining the name of his new venture.

Patee is known for his outgoing personality and entertainment skills – a rare quality among Thai entrepreneurs. He starred in several adverts while working in the advertising industry. Later, he became the “face” of Nok Air, appearing in a series of ads for the carrier.

He also took a guest role in the popular TV drama series “Gentlemen of Jutathep” and joined a singing contest in “The Masked Singer” TV show.

Patee was born on October 24, 1961, into a wealthy Thai-Chinese family. His father Arsa, 85, is a former foreign minister who served as private secretary of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej from 1999 until his retirement in 2012. Patee’s grandfather Pote Sarasin served as prime minister in 1957. The family runs Thai Pure Drinks Co Ltd, the local bottler of Coca-Cola.

Patee was educated mostly overseas – attending high school in England before furthering his studies in the United States. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management and computer science from Clark University and a master’s in mass communications from American University in Washington.

He started his career in the advertising business working with the Lintas and Spa agencies, before becoming chief executive of the Thai arm of multinational advertising firm Bates at the age of 31.

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Difficult period with Nok Air

A decade later, Patee shifted to the aviation industry by joining Nok Air at its birth in 2004. He presided over a turbulent decade for the budget airline.

It started with the catastrophic Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, which hit Thailand and other Indian Ocean countries. Then came anti-government protests that led to the blockade of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport in 2006.

The airline almost went bankrupt in 2008 as costs surged following a spike in the oil price. That was followed by Thailand’s Great Flood of 2011, which forced Nok Air to move its base from the inundated Don Mueang Airport to Suvarnabhumi.

Nok Air’s reputation was badly dented when its check-in system collapsed during a long holiday break in August 2015, triggering flight delays, passenger uproar and commotion in the departure hall. The CEO mailed a personal apology and offered complimentary tickets to all affected passengers in compensation.

A year later, he again had to personally apologize multiple times when hundreds of passengers were left stranded following a pilot strike that caused the cancellation of many flights.

During his leadership, Nok Air suffered huge losses – 471 million baht in 2014, 726 million in 2015, and 2.1 billion in 2016.

The CEO stepped down in September 2017 after leading the airline for 13 years. A year later, Patee set up an online travel agency called Really Really Cool.

By Thai PBS World