Air traffic growth loses momentum
Newly released figures for the full calendar year 2016 confirm a slowdown in growth for commercial air traffic through Thailand.
Passenger throughput at six main airports, which altogether handled the bulk of civil air movements in the country, grew 10.8% last year, half the pace recorded in 2015 over 2014.
The airports, operated by the Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT), handled 121.7 million passengers last year, up from 109.8 million in the previous year.
Aircraft movements in 2016 showed a similar growth pattern, rising 8.58% year-on-year, compared to the 16.6% rate seen in 2015.
There were 790,194 aircraft movements, referring to take-offs and landings, in 2016, versus 727,750 in 2015.
But air cargo movements showed a significant upturn, jumping 7.67% in 2016 to 1.45 million tonnes from the stagnant 0.97% rate achieved in 2015.
Last year's international passenger volumes increased 9.44%, again about half of the 19.9% rise in 2015, to a record 68.4 million.
The domestic passenger tally edged up 12.6% last year, versus 23.2% in 2015, to 53.3 million.
Expansion in 2016 generally reflected a traditional growth pattern, with the inflated 2015 rate reflecting the subdued pace in 2014.
The stable political environment from military rule rejuvenated the Thai tourism industry and air traffic in 2015.
Thailand's political turmoil, which led to the downfall of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, resulted in marginal 2.53% growth in passenger traffic that year to 90.5 million.
Growth in 2016 was also held back by the reduced arrivals from China -- Thailand's number one foreign tourist source market -- as the result of a clampdown on tour scams.
The crackdown effectively wiped out 2.27 million Chinese visitors who would otherwise have landed at AoT-run airports during the last four months of 2016, said AoT president Nitinai Sirismatthakarn.
Except for the gateway airport Suvarnabhumi, other AoT-operated airports registered double-digit growth last year, in the tune of 10-17%.
Due to its capacity constraints, Suvarnabhumi increased its passenger handling by 5.65% last year to 55.9 million.
Phuket led the passenger traffic growth in 2016 with 17.5% to 15.1 million, followed by Don Mueang at 16.2% to 35.2 million.
Chiang Mai last year saw 12.9% growth to 9.44 million, while Hat Yai registered 10% growth (4 million) and Chiang Rai surged 16.8% (2.03 million).
Meanwhile, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) said Asia Pacific continued to see solid growth in demand for international air travel, while air cargo markets showed renewed strength in the second half of the year after a weak start.
Boosted by the widespread availability of competitive airfares and continued expansion in network connections, the region's airlines carried a combined total of 293 million international passengers in 2016, representing 6% growth compared to the previous year.
The average international passenger load factor rose by 0.3 percentage points to reach 78.7% for the year, after accounting for a 6.6% increase in demand as measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) and a 6.3% expansion in available seat capacity.
International air cargo demand, measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK), recorded a 1.8% increase for the year, with growth rebounding to a 5.7% year-on-year rise during the second half, following a 2.2% year-on-year contraction during the first six months of the year.
Overall, offered freight capacity expanded by 3.5%, leading to a slight 1.0 percentage point decline in the average international freight load factor to 62.5% for the year.
"Notwithstanding some unexpected geopolitical developments and macroeconomic uncertainty in 2016, air passenger traffic carried by Asian airlines continued to grow, climbing 6% higher compared to the preceding year," said AAPC director general Andrew Herdman.
"Asian regional travel markets were relatively strong, as was demand on routes to and from North America, although routes from Asia to Europe saw some weakness following terrorist-related incidents," he said.
Mr Herdman added that the outlook for air travel markets in 2017 remains broadly positive, although an earlier boost in demand spurred by falling oil prices is now behind us, with growth rates potentially moderating.
"Market conditions remain highly competitive, and airlines are focused on active cost management, while continuing to invest in future growth opportunities," he said.