Carriers eye return to Don Mueang

Carriers eye return to Don Mueang

A Nok Air crew member screens passengers during check-in at Don Mueang airport.
A Nok Air crew member screens passengers during check-in at Don Mueang airport.

Airlines are pleading to restart domestic flights from Don Mueang airport in September to stem a liquidity crisis.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) is holding discussions with low-cost carriers this week to settle travel safety regulations, which CAAT must submit to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration for approval.

Nok Air chief executive Wutthiphum Jurangkool said airlines are awaiting a decision as their domestic operations have been suspended since July 21 as the country remains under an aviation lockdown.

Airlines were told to prepare for possible service resumption on Sept 1, but they may have to wait until Sept 15.

"The dark red zone restrictions actually affect just Bangkok and Hat Yai, but in the past month most domestic flights have peen paralysed, which handicaps the cash flow of airlines," said Mr Wutthiphum.

Nok Air is allowed to fly limited services from U-tapao airport in Chon Buri to certain provinces, such as Phuket, Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat, due to travel restrictions in many places.

Potential passengers have refrained from travelling because they prefer the convenience of Don Mueang airport, he said.

Additional requirements, such as negative RT-PCR test reports and vaccine certificates for passengers to some provinces, present another obstacle for air travel, said Mr Wutthiphum.

Nok Air has adjusted flight frequencies on a weekly basis as some routes might have less than 40 passengers per day from all available flights, he said.

As a result, the airline's operation costs are leading to losses for each flight, said Mr Wutthiphum.

However, Nok Air expects better performance from next week after it was given permission by a Phuket provincial order to carry passengers to the island, which means it doesn't have to fly an empty airplane there to serve only return flights to U-tapao airport.

The island has imposed stringent domestic border screening from Aug 3 until the end of the month, which affects travellers who completed the sandbox programme and want to depart for other destinations.

Thai Vietjet announced cross-regional flights bypassing Bangkok, such as roundtrips from Phuket to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Udon Thani, from Sept 15.

"If air travel is allowed in September, passenger demand will not pick up immediately, but at least people will have more convenient choices and airlines can generate income," said Mr Wutthiphum.

He said Nok Air asked CAAT to consider increasing the seat limitation to 70% of the cabin, up from the current 50%.

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