Seat limits eased for Thailand-Laos flights

Seat limits eased for Thailand-Laos flights

Neighbouring state slowly opens up skies

Wattay airport, the main gateway to Vientiane, is undergoing an expansion to triple capacity. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
Wattay airport, the main gateway to Vientiane, is undergoing an expansion to triple capacity. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA

VIENTIANE: Thailand and Laos have forged an accord to more than double the limits on seat volume that their respective airlines can carry between the two countries.

The agreement paves the way for designated carriers registered in both countries to ramp up seat capacities on routes that were restricted for years.

The "multiple" increase is meant to respond to rising passenger traffic demand between Thailand and Laos. The latter has been slow to open its skies to foreign carriers.

Vanhpheng Chanthaphone, director-general of the Laotian civil aviation department, told the Bangkok Post that the new accord covers projected demand for several years ahead.

The increase in seat capacities comes in the wake of rising economic activity between the two states, with Laos particularly attracting investment and tourism from Thailand.

The enlarged quota is expected to provide a greater benefit to Thai-registered carriers such as Thai AirAsia (TAA) and THAI Smile, which are eager to operate flights from Thailand to Laos, than to less-competitive Laos-registered airlines.

Mr Vanhpheng said Laos is not prepared to fully open the floodgates, as flag carrier Lao Airlines and privately owned Lao Central Airlines are struggling to sustain their services on the country-pair.

Its civil aviation department will not immediately grant TAA the right to operate a second daily flight from Bangkok's Don Mueang airport to Vientiane, a service just inaugurated on July 1, as requested by the airline.

Nor will it quickly allow THAI Smile, a wholly owned budget arm of Thai Airways International, to commence daily service between Bangkok and Vientiane.

"We would rather see how TAA performs in terms of load factor and demand for its first daily Vientiane service over the next 3-6 months and whether there are airport time slots to see if they could justify doubling the capacity," Mr Vanhpheng said.

The US$99-million expansion at Wattay, the main airport serving Vientiane, is under way and thus restricted in its capacity to handle more flights, he said.

The Japanese-funded expansion is expected to conclude by 2018, when Wattay's annual passenger handling capacity will triple to 3 million passengers.

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