Betong airport in the southernmost province of Yala is expected to fully open next month after the first charter flight landed on Saturday to promote tourism for this southernmost district, Seksakol Attawong, an aide to the prime minister, said.
Mr Seksakol, one of an initial 78 passengers, said Betong businessmen on the flight were delighted that the airport has now received a licence and certification from the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) that will allow commercial flights to operate in and out of the airport.
"Today's landing is the first charter flight since the airport received clearance to welcome charter flights.
"Now the Transport Ministry is talking to some commercial airlines about conditions [to fly into the airport]. It is expected that Betong airport will fully open to serve the community and tourists in February," Mr Seksakol said.
Charter flight DD6260 operated by Nok Air landed at the airport at 11.17am.
Mr Seksakol said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has been following up on the construction of Betong airport, which is aimed at boosting tourism in Yala by linking it to the rest of the country via commercial flights.
He had made good on his earlier pledge to Betong residents that the first flight would land in January this year.
Duangporn Suwanmanee, director of Narathiwat airport who is now in charge of overseeing Betong airport, said the flight hub is ready for commercial use.
So far, two commercial flight routes have been requested by airlines. These are the Hat Yai-Betong-Hat Yai and Don Mueang-Betong-Don Mueang routes, a source at the Transport Ministry said.
Construction of the airport was undertaken to address the transport limitations of Betong district, which is situated on highlands and is served by narrow and winding mountain roads.
Although the district shares a border with Malaysia, aircraft flight paths will only require the use of Thai airspace, the source said.
The source also said the CAAT on Jan 28 granted the airport a Public Aerodrome Aerodrome Operating Certificate.
Ground was broken on the airport in 2016 with 1.9 billion baht earmarked for construction. It was originally expected to open in 2019 but Covid-19 delayed the plan.