CHIANG RAI – Three additional carriers, all focusing on ferrying Chinese tourists to Thailand, are set to descend on Chiang Rai airport this month.
The trio are Chengdu-based Sichuan Airlines, Loong Air of Hangzhou, and NewGen Airways, Thailand’s largest China-focused charter operator.
These are the latest batch of international airlines to make Chiang Rai airport, operated by Airports of Thailand Plc, their port of call, catering to the northern Thai province’s fast-growing popularity as a destination for Chinese tourists.
Beijing Capital Airlines started serving Chiang Rai from Haikou in March this year, after Hong Kong Express Airways’ inauguration of Chiang Rai-Hong Kong service in December last year.
NewGen has booked 10 charter flights between Chiang Rai and Zhengzhou during July and August using Boeing 737 jets, the airport’s general manager Wisoot Khamyod told the Bangkok Post.
Sichuan is scheduled to have three weekly flights between Chiang Rai and Chengdu around the middle of this month with Airbus A320 aircraft.
Loong Air will also start two weekly services on Chiang Rai-Hangzhou on July 15.
Meanwhile, Thai Lion Air (TLA) will operate a total of 12 charter flights between Chiang Rai and Hubei during July and August using B737s.
TLA is also set to start Chiang Rai- Guangzhou charter services in September.
However, TLA’s planned charter flights between Chiang Rai and Changsha, at three weekly, were supposed to start on July 2 but are undergoing some changes to match Chiang Rai airport’s flight curfew from midnight to 6am.
Before the arrival of the three latest airlines, Chiang Rai served nine airlines, three of them belonging to China-based companies, all connecting to Chinese cities, said Mr Wisoot.
Chiang Rai is seeing a surge in air traffic, driven largely by Chinese leisure travellers and Thai domestic connection traffic.
In the eight months to May this fiscal year, Chiang Rai airport saw a 21.2% jump in passenger throughput year-on-year to 1.65 million, with aircraft movements soaring 18.1% to 11,571.
He said the airport projects an annual growth rate of around 20%. It was designed to handle annual passenger capacity of 3 million.
Chiang Rai airport is undergoing a three-phase upgrade, costing 6.3 billion baht, over the next 14 years.
The upgrade centres on improving taxiways and adding more aprons that will raise the airport’s annual passenger handling capacity to 3.3 million.
With the rapid growth in traffic through Chiang Rai airport, it is becoming necessary to start thinking about a new passenger terminal, said Mr Wisoot.