BANGKOK, 22 September 2015: Low-cost airline, Thai AirAsia, will establish three new hubs over the next year to pursue expansion in the fast-growing Thailand-China market, according to Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation’s latest analysis.
U-Tapao Airport near Pattaya will become the airline fifth base, late this month, after Bangkok’s Don Mueang, Chiang Mai, Krabi, and Phuket.
The upcoming route U-Tapao – Nanning will launch, 25 September, with four weekly flights on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
Flights to Nanchang will start, 26 September, with three weekly flights on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
CAPA said the airline plans to open two more bases in 2016 as it takes delivery of five additional A320s. Chiang Rai and Surat Thani are the most likely sites.
“The airline has not yet disclosed which airports will host future hubs, but Chiang Rai would be the most logical choice in northern Thailand,” CAPA said.
Airports of Thailand have been improving the airport terminal and offering incentives to airlines to fly to the far-north city. Five airlines fly to Chiang Rai and two of them, Thai AirAsia and Bangkok Airways ,already offer connecting services and seamless transfers through their Bangkok hubs.
Chiang Rai is the second most popular tourist destination in northern Thailand after Chiang Mai, which is already a Thai AirAsia hub.
The airport has just one scheduled international route – a thrice weekly service from Kunming on China Eastern.
The analysis added: “Surat Thani is the most likely option in South Thailand as it is an alternative airport for traffic to Samui and other popular resort islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
Thai AirAsia already sells inclusive fares to Samui packaging the air fare with a ferry and bus transfer from Surat Thani for flights out of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur.
The Kuala Lumpur-Surat Thani service is operated daily by Malaysia AirAsia. Surat Thani also has international services from three Chinese cities; Chengdu on China Eastern, Shanghai on Shanghai Airlines and Wuhan on Air China.
Accessing Samui directly is not a possibility for AirAsia as Samui Airport cannot accommodate A320s and is not served by any LCCs, CAPA said.
Samui Airport is owned by Bangkok Airways, while the Surat Thani airport is owned by Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation, which also owns Krabi and several smaller secondary airports.
“All seven bases will have services to Greater China as well as domestic point-to-point routes, enabling visitors to bypass congested Bangkok while travelling around Thailand.”
If Chiang Rai is chosen it could also be a base for a service to Singapore as there is now demand for direct services. The only airlines offering check-through services on the Singapore-Chiang Rai route are Bangkok Airways (codeshare) and Thai AirAsia (its own thru check service).
Thai AirAsia currently operates 30 international routes from four bases. Its main base at Bangkok Don Mueang has 23 international routes to China, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau and Singapore.
It also currently operates three international routes from Chiang Mai (Hangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau), two from Phuket (Hong Kong and Singapore) and two from Krabi (Guangzhou and Singapore).