Nok Air, the only commercial airline offering scheduled flights to the farthest southern district, is mulling whether to continue its Don Mueang-Betong operation after July due to financial losses on the route, says its chief executive officer, Wutthiphum Jurangkool.
Nok Air says it has been in the red since launching its inaugural flight on April 29.
The low-cost carrier expects that by July, losses could amount to 40 million baht despite a reported load factor of about 90%. Load factor refers to how many paying customers fill a flight. Nok Air operates three flights a week from the capital Bangkok to Yala's Betong district.
According to the airline, expenses associated with the service to Betong were high and Nok Air has asked the government to subsidise the costs as well as lower service fees at the airports the airline uses.
The airline is already partly subsidised by the government. At the same time, fuel costs have skyrocketed, adding to the expenses, especially along the Betong route with flights lasting one hour and 45 minutes.
Nok Air said it has lost an opportunity to make a profit. "We'll need to decide whether to continue the Betong service," Mr Wutthiphum said. He said flights to the district until July will cater to passengers on packaged tours. Figures show that more than 1,700 passengers have flown to Betong using Nok Air.
Meanwhile, Kanpong Limkanchana, chairman of the Yala chamber of commerce, said the airline should have consulted residents on how much they were willing to pay.
Currently, the airline charges a round-trip fare of 8,000 baht, half the cost of flying from Bangkok to Hat Yai district in nearby Songkhla province and taking public transport to Betong.
"I think it might be tactical for Nok Air to claim that it is operating the Betong route at a loss," Mr Kanpong said. "It might be a call for [more] subsidy."
Mr Kanpong said the cancellation of Nok Air flights to Betong will not affect local tourism. Other airlines are showing an interest in operating along the route, he said.
Betong's economy relies heavily on visitors from neighbouring Malaysia, he said. If the land border reopens, the tourism industry in the district will return to normal, he said.