Saturday, July 31, 2010

2009: Not a Bad Year For Phuket Aviation

The Phuket aviation activity in 2009 looked a lot better than previous years and there are promising signs for future growth and development.

The number of airlines servicing Phuket domestically and internationally either directly or through charters and code shares with other airlines was around 50 and has continued to grow.

A new airline, Happy Air, started up, which is unusual [ and risky ] but welcome. Owned by a Puget Thai family, Happy Air offers flights to HatYai and Langkawi, Malaysia on a 34 seat SAAB 340 Standard aircraft. A second SAAB could be introduced, depending on how the business grows.

Firefly Airlines of Malaysia started, then suspended, then started again flights between Phuket and Penang, in Malaysia. Firefly and Happy Air are not really budget airlines. Both offer limited "full" service.

They could be dubbed the " visa run " airlines because of the short runs to Malaysia, although it is yet to be determined if they pick up a lot of this traffic.

There were no fatal accidents at Phuket in 2009. The only major 'incident" in Thailand was a Bangkok Airways ATR-72 aircraft plowing into the Koh Samui control tower, causing extensive damage but no fatalities.

Air Asia's announcement of using Phuket as a second Thailand hub showed strong commitment to the island's tourism industry, and from China China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines started services, after some delay caused by the Songkran riots in Bangkok.

Thai Airways International, which accounts for around 50% of all passengers into Phuket, launched direct flights from Hong Kong, a smart move given the large number of Hong Kong people who now own property on Phuket.

The usual "suspects", Tiger Airways and Silk Air, Singapore and JetStar Airlines, Australia continued their growth paths with uninterrupted services to Phuket. In addition V-Australia, the Virgin long haul budget carrier, was to begin flights to Phuket from New Zealand with connections on Pacific Blue, the budget carrier servicing New Zealand.

From Europe large and growing airlines like Condor and Air Berlin are seen more frequently at the airport. And THAI will, next year, offer direct Frankfurt-Phuket flights, which will boost already high numbers of tourists from Germany.

The charter business this year also seems to be holding up, although latest statistics were not available at time of writing. Charter flight airlines operators include BaiAir, Swizterland; Britannia Airways, UK; Britannia Scandinavia, Scandinavia; FinnAir , Finland; Martin Air, Holland, NovAir and PremiAir, Sweden; UNI Airways, Khaoshung and Taipei.

And in a sign of the times, with airline consolidation taking place in Europe, TUI Travel, one of the biggest charter operators, took a 9.9% stake in Air Berlin, the Germany's second biggest carrier. Such deals can only be positive for Phuket, given the large German tourist traffic.

With the high season just beginning assessing whether tourist numbers will be up on last year is difficult, but given the upheaval caused by airport closures in Bangkok and Phuket, the year on year numbers are likely to be higher.

Here's hoping. At Phuket International Airport, despite the parking fee going up by 400% to 200THB per day, there have been some noticeable and welcome improvements, particularly in the international area. The Airports Authority of Thailand is spending a great deal of money to improve the airport, a tremendous investment in the future of the island.r

New lounges [ Happy Air ], restaurants, cafes and other facilities that travelers look for while waiting for planes have sprung up all over the place. There are more immigration booths and lines seem a bit shorter [ although depends on how much of an impatient person you are ].

The planned building of a VIP terminal for the glitterati to fly in and out of Phuket undisturbed was also a welcome announcement.

Overall aviation in Phuket this year had positive growth and signs for the future. This is vital as the island would simply shrivel up and die without those aircraft landing at our little airport every few minutes or so.

Wednesday, 28th July 2010 at 03:04am

By Alastair Carthew, a former aviation employee, newspaper and television journalist. He is a freelance writer and consultant living on Phuket. Click here to read more.

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