Local flights pick up steam in North

Local flights pick up steam in North

People arrive on scheduled domestic flights at Chiang Mai airport on Thursday. More flights and passengers are expected at the airport this month with the Covid-19 lockdown easing. (Photo by Phanumet Tanraksa)
People arrive on scheduled domestic flights at Chiang Mai airport on Thursday. More flights and passengers are expected at the airport this month with the Covid-19 lockdown easing. (Photo by Phanumet Tanraksa)

Air traffic at the Chiang Mai international airport is picking up with more flights and passengers expected this month, said Amornrat Chumsai Na Ayutthaya, the airport director.

The North's main gateway airport is recovering some of its flight and passenger traffic. On average, the airport received 40 flights carrying about 4,000-5,000 passengers a day last month. The number of flights is expected to rise to 68 a day on average while passenger figures are predicted to jump 50% this month, according to Mr Amornrak.

However, scheduled flights operate only on domestic routes including those connecting Chiang Mai to other hub airports at U-Tapao, Hat Yai, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani. International flights are likely to return slowly after the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) announced the lifting of the ban on international flights under some conditions with immediate effect on Monday.

Analysts agreed inbound flights will not quickly return to the pre-Covid 19 level as air travel to and from the main markets still battered by the pandemic will remain suspended, and people are delaying their overseas travel plans.

The CAAT announcement coincided with the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) release of figures for passenger demand in May (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) which dropped 91.3% compared to May 2019. This was a mild uptick from the 94% annual decline recorded in April 2020. The improvement was driven by a recovery in some domestic markets, most notably China.

"May was not quite as terrible as April. That's about the best thing that can be said," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director-general and CEO, adding there is tremendous uncertainty about what impact a resurgence of new Covid-19 cases in key markets could have.

International passenger demand fell 98.3% in May compared to May 2019, virtually unchanged from the 98.4% decline recorded in April. Capacity plummeted 95.3%, and load factor sank 51.9 percentage points to 28.6%, meaning just over a quarter of seats were filled, on average.

Asia-Pacific airlines' May traffic plunged 98% compared to the year-ago period, also in line with a 98.2% recorded in April. Capacity fell 95.1% and load factor shrank 46.6 percentage points to 32.1%.

On Thursday, the financially ailing Thai Airways International (THAI) said its passenger number fell by 4.5 million to 3.5 million in the first five months of the year. The airline's cabin factor, which requires the percentage of available seating capacity to be regularly filled by passengers, tumbled to 69%, down from 78% in the same period last year.

The figures presented as a basis for calculation were taken before THAI suspended all its international and domestic flights in early May due to the Covid-19 pandemic although the airline had been in the red long before that. Under a heavy debt burden of 244.9 billion baht, THAI is waiting for the Central Bankruptcy Court's decision on whether to admit its petition for debt rehabilitation on Aug 18. If the court accepts the case for a hearing, a rehab plan will be drawn up, subject to approval from creditors.

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