Phuket to become AirAsia regional hub

PHUKET CITY: Thai AirAsia will begin direct flight services to Phuket from several new major cities in the region starting by the end of the year, the low-cost carrier has announced.

AirAsia will base five aircraft at Phuket International Airport as part of its plan to establish Phuket as an aviation hub, Thai AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld told a press conference at the Royal Phuket City Hotel last week.

The cities include Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City and Chiang Mai.

The first of the new flights will begin in November.

Thai AirAsia expects the project to add an additional one million passengers this year.

Last year, 4.2 million people flew with the airline, 55 percent of which were Asian nationals.

“Some have questioned how we can expect such an increase with the state of the economy, but we have already reserved these planes so we will have to rely on marketing to get more people to travel to Thailand,” he said.

“About 85 percent of passengers book through the Internet, 10 percent though our call center and the remainder from other sources,” he said.

Thai AirAsia opened a booking center in Patong in April this year and has plans to open another in Phuket City. There is also a ticket booth at Tesco-Lotus on the bypass road.

Bhuritt Maswongsa, vice president for marketing of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the news was very positive for Phuket, which was recovering well after successfully hosting the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in July.

The PTA has worked hard for years to establish Phuket as a third regional hub for Southeast Asia after Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and Changi Airport in Singapore, he said.

The new flights will allow passengers from places like Medan and Surabaya in Indonesia and Brunei to transit through Phuket to catch long-haul flights to destinations in Europe and North America, he said.

The PTA is also pushing Thai Airways International (THAI) to launch a twice-weekly Frankfurt to Phuket route, either directly or via Bangkok, he said.

The national carrier currently offers direct service to Phuket only from Hong Kong, Narita Airport in Japan, and Perth, Australia, he said.

The PTA is also urging THAI to resume direct flights from Singapore.

“They stopped the service a long time ago, claiming they could not operate the route at a profit, but there are currently three other carriers offering a total of nine flights to Phuket from Singapore daily,” he said.

SilkAir offers five flights daily, while Tiger Airways and AirAsia offer two flights each, he said.

Virgin Blue’s launch of direct flights from Perth, Brisbane and Sydney in Australia is another boon to Phuket tourism, he said.

“All incoming flights are full. Phuket is doing better than Pattaya and Chiang Mai, which are still struggling with the number of tourists,” he said.

On the domestic front, Mr Bhuritt said he was trying to convince Thai AirAsia to offer flights from Phuket to Haad Yai.

The last in a long list of carriers who have tried and failed to operate flights between the two cities was Nok Air, which abandoned the route after a six-month trial period in November 2007.

“I have suggested to Mr Tassapon that AirAsia offer Bangkok-Phuket-Haad Yai flights perhaps three times a week. They are considering it,” he said.

— Atchaa Khamlo & Stephen Fein

Phuket News
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