The 21-metre-long fore section of a real Boeing 737 that greets children at the entrance of KidZania Bangkok in Siam Paragon shopping mall is not there solely for children's flight of fancy after its retirement from Thai AirAsia (TAA).
Children role-play in an authentic Boeing 737 fuselage cut off from an old AirAsia plane at KidZania Bangkok edutainment centre.
The fuselage, which was cut off from an aircraft at Bangkok's old Don Mueang airport a year ago, has found a new home and new duties at the edutainment centre, with a primary mission of embedding the airline's brand in the minds of children as young as four.
Its secondary role is to inspire youngsters to become future pilots and cabin crew, demand for which will skyrocket over the next couple of decades as airlines around the world take delivery of tens of thousands of new commercial jetliners.
Boeing, the US plane maker, projects a need for 460,000 new commercial airline pilots worldwide by 2031. It expects Asia-Pacific will continue to present the largest growth in pilot demand, requiring 185,600 new ones during that period.
The fuselage's cabin and cockpit have been largely carried over from the real aircraft, with some modification to match the scale of children.
Inside are simplified flight simulators where children up to age 14 learn to how to fly a commercial airliner and serve passengers in role playing while wearing authentic-looking TAA uniforms and taught by trained instructors.
Santisuk Klongchaiya, TAA's director of commercial operations, believes the airline's presence at the 810-million-baht KidZania centre is first and foremost a branding exercise.
"We want to sow the seeds of recognition for the TAA brand in their minds, foster a positive attitude for our red corporate colour and brand and make them want to become our future passengers," he said in explanation for TAA's spending millions of baht to be a part of KidZania Bangkok, which opened in May.
The airline's engagement at KidZania Bangkok forms the latest part of TAA's systematic brand building with a little corporate social responsibility (CSR) thrown in aimed at youngsters.
Other CSR endeavours include flying underprivileged hilltribe children from the North to Phuket for their first look at the sea and bringing deaf children from orphanages upcountry to Bangkok to enjoy Children's Day activities.
Mr Santisuk said he does not expect children will take up the TAA brand so quickly that they ask their parents to fly it the next day. It's more if a gradual process instead.
TAA's children-focused branding exercise is aimed at reinforcing the airline's image as the leader in the country's industry. The idea is to foster the same loyalty among newer generations as the older ones had with Thai Airways International.
Children aged 7-8 stand the best chance of registering the brand and appreciating the low-cost carrier (LCC) model, said Mr Santisuk.
Thailand is the third of 13 KidZania branches in 10 countries where AirAsia Group airlines have a prominent presence _ and always with a complete and genuine AirAsia fuselage at the entrance along with simulated red and white check-in counters.
The other two are AirAsia Indonesia in the Jakarta branch, which opened in November 2007, and AirAsia Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, which debuted in February 2012.
To capitalise on its KidZania Bangkok involvement, TAA has begun joint marketing with Kids Edutainment Holdings (Thailand) Co, the majority-Indonesian franchisee of KidZania, the Mexican parent company.
At present, passengers on TAA flights to Bangkok excluding service from Malaysia, Indonesia and India between July 1 and Sept 30 can present their flight documents for a 50% discount on the normal 2,100 baht entry charge for two adults and two children.
Since July 1, a series of TV commercials featuring twin child actors Haden and Joshua in the roles of AirAsia junior captains has been aired.
As Asia's largest LCC group, the Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia has a keen eye for the brand-building value of publicity, hence the never-ending stream of marketing ploys and gimmicks that have served to enhance its brand image.
"AirAsia as a brand is very much based on the difference in attitude. We like to do things differently via constant innovation, and that trait is key in elevating our brand and sets us apart from the rest of the field," group chief executive Tony Fernandes said in emailed comments to the Bangkok Post.
He described AirAsia as an aggressive and challenger brand, saying: "Our aim is to be synonymous with low-cost air travel globally, and now that we are truly successful in Asean, it's time to take it to the highest level."
Anna Kamenskaya, marketing director for the 10,000-square-metre centre, said TAA is the favourite among the 65 simulation exercises featuring 80 career options at the world's largest indoor edutainment facility.
"When the kids see the plane, they feel excited and want to get in. And a lot of them came to Bangkok by plane, so they want to do in role playing what they saw a day or two ago," she said.
TAA commercial director Santisuk Klongchaiya (left) and KidZania marketing director Anna Kamenskaya pose at the entrance to KidZania Bangkok in Siam Paragon.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business