Airlines: Aviation hub goal requires work

Airlines: Aviation hub goal requires work

Arriving passengers snake through a long queue for immigration counters at Suvarnabhumi airport on Feb 10, 2024. 
Arriving passengers snake through a long queue for immigration counters at Suvarnabhumi airport on Feb 10, 2024. 

Airlines have applauded the government's policy to develop the country as an aviation hub, but remain concerned about congestion at key airports, which requires time and a large investment in order to serve growing demand.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Friday announced a plan to establish Thailand as an aviation and logistics hub, banking on its strategic location in Southeast Asia.

Thailand wants to attract more international airlines to expand their presence in the country.

Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation Plc (AAV), the majority shareholder of Thai AirAsia (TAA), said Thailand still requires a large-scale investment to establish itself as an aviation hub in the region.

The main airports in Bangkok -- Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang -- have almost reached maximum capacity, he said.

Suvarnabhumi airport is severely crowded, which is particularly problematic as it hosts the majority of inbound flights to Bangkok, while Phuket airport, the second-largest international air traffic hub, cannot expand because of geographical limitations, said Mr Tassapon.

"Long-term plans are necessary to build up Thailand as an aviation hub as the existing infrastructure is insufficient to cater to growing airline fleets and soaring passenger numbers," he said.

A major challenge for solving congestion at Suvarnabhumi airport is there is only one passenger terminal, said Mr Tassapon.

A satellite terminal recently opened, but even it is inadequate to cope with the large number of international flights, he said.

"Becoming an aviation hub might take time and a large investment, but the government should make the plan clear and start it as soon as possible, whether it involves expanding Suvarnabhumi airport or adding an airport in Phangnga to absorb congestion in Phuket," said Mr Tassapon.

Regarding the policy to upgrade provincial airports to international airports, such as Udon Thani, Khon Kaen and Buri Ram, he said airlines agree with this plan, but the government should commit to long-term development and not delay projects as is occurring with some airports at present.

In related news, the aviation business in Thailand continued to grow during the high season as operating results significantly improved in the fourth quarter of 2023.

AAV reported a net profit of 2.8 billion baht for the period from revenue of 12.4 billion baht, growing 51% year-on-year.

In terms of annual performance, AAV posted a net profit of 466 million baht on revenue of 41.2 billion baht, attributed to a 90% load factor as it carried more than 18.9 million passengers, increasing 90% from 2022.

Bangkok Airways secured net profit of 3 billion baht for 2023 on revenue of 21.7 billion, tallying 3.97 million passengers for the year.

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines reported on Thursday a positive trend for international traffic and cargo in January as airlines in Asia-Pacific carried a combined 27 million passengers, with traffic reaching 82% of the 2019 level.

Available seat capacity increased 51.3% year-on-year, according to the association.

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