The Thai city of Chiang Mai will host Routes Asia 2020, and operator Airports of Thailand (AOT) is planning to elevate its airport as the country’s northern hub.

Paninee Chaisrakeo, director of business development and marketing division said Chiang Mai would be able to better tap the Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam market, along with the popular Chinese market, especially from the southwest region.

Although the airport can only handle 8 million passengers annually, it handled 10.8 million in 2018. International visitors were up 23.7% year on year to 2.36 million, and Chinese passengers accounted for more than 50% at 1.5 million. AOT is starting the phase 1 expansion at Chiang Mai, which will see the construction of a new terminal to handle 16.5 million by 2022.

Chaisrakeo also revealed a study is underway to build a second Chiang Mai airport as the current site is near the city and lacks land for further expansion. If built, it is likely that domestic and international flights will be segregated to each respective airport.

In Routes Asia 2019 held at Cebu, Philippines, AOT said it is actively engaging four airlines and five connections: Jetstar between Perth-Phuket; Vanilla Air between Tokyo-Narita-Chiang Mai; Thai AirAsia from Chiang Mai-Incheon; and Thai Lion Air from Don Mueang to Busan and Moscow.

Under the order of the Thai government, AOT will also take over the operations the airports of Chumphon, Tak, Sakhonakhon and Udon Thani from the government’s Department of Airport.

“These airports are important as it will promote the network growth in the underserved regions and receive spill over from other crowded airports.” Chaisrakeo said. Most of Thailand’s major airports are located in a straight line running from the north (Chiang Mai) to the south (Phuket), and the government has introduced the Eastern Economic Corridor to promote the growth of the east.

AOT said Udon Thani has good potential to be Thailand’s north eastern gateway, being near to Cambodia, Laos and thriving Vietnam, and it is working with the tourism department to accelerate the growth of tourism spots in the region.

Chen Chuanren, chuanren@purplelightvisuals.com