Phuket 'risks losing' private jets

Restrictions on private jet flights at busy Phuket airport remain in place even though the 16-day ban on their movements ended on Jan 3.

Restrictions on private jets such as this Gulfstream V, a popular long-range aircraft sitting at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, remain at Phuket airport. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA

The denials or extended delays for requested times for landing and take-off raise grave concerns that most users of private jets including tycoons and celebrities will stop flying to the southern resort island.

"These private jet flyers have tight schedules, and if there is so much trouble getting the needed time slots at Phuket, they'll most likely go somewhere else," warned Jaiyavat Navaraj, chairman of the Southeast Asia Airline Operators Committee, part of the Hong Kong-based Asian Business Aviation Association.

He said these people face the inconvenience of changing flight times or landing at other airports such as Surat Thani and using other transport to get to Phuket.

Private jet operators and their clients are increasingly frustrated by the restrictions of the so-called Slot Coordinator, which gives priority to airlines due to critical congestion at the airport.

The Slot Coordinator comprises officials from the Civil Aviation Department, the flag carrier Thai Airways International and Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT), which operates Phuket and five other international airports.

Phuket airport is facing worsening overcrowding, while its 5.7-billion-baht expansion will take another 26 months to complete.

If restrictions for private jets continue unabated and increase in severity, private jet operators will stay away, Mr Jaiyavat said.

He warned that Phuket could lose its private jet traffic to rival destinations such as Langkawi or the Maldives.

To illustrate the severity of restrictions, Mr Jaiyavat cited one case in which a private jet requested an 8am landing but was given clearance at 8pm.

Prathuang Sornkhom, the general manager of Phuket airport, earlier said the recent 16-day ban on private jets was due to the surge in airline traffic over the Christmas/New Year period and the closure of three parking bays to facilitate the expansion work.

Passenger volume at Phuket airport increased by 2,100 a day to 31,000 during the holiday season, with flights up by 19-190 a day, said AoT.

Mjets, the Thai firm that provides ground handling services for private jet operators as well as charter services, estimates Phuket lost up to 50 private jet flights over the festive season.

The airport's expansion includes a new passenger terminal capable of handling 6 million passengers a year, 10 more aircraft aprons from the present 15 and a five-storey car park for 1,000 vehicles.

When finished, the airport will be able to process 12.5 million passengers a year.

About the author

Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business