Thai AirAsia Opens its First Mainland China Flights from Chiang Mai

Thai AirAsia has confirmed it will launch its first mainland Chinese service from outside of the Thai capital, Bangkok with a new link between Hangzhou and the Northern Thai destination of Chiang Mai, a focus city for the budget carrier.  The flights will commence on February 21, 2014 and will be flown on a daily schedule by Airbus A320 equipment.  The airline opened reservations for the route in December last year, as revealed by our schedule blog, Airline Route, here.

China is a key market for the AirAsia Group and its Thai operation already serves nine mainland cities from its base at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok.  These comprise Changsha, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Xi’an and an existing route to Hangzhou which was launched in October 2012.  This year Thai Air Asia is already scheduled to offer over 300 flights per week in each direction between mainland China and Bangkok providing around 60,000 seats in each direction.

Although this will be the airline’s first mainland China route from Chiang Mai, it does already serve a number of international destinations from the city, including links to the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

“The Chiang Mai - Hangzhou route is the pride of AirAsia as it is the latest connection between Chiang Mai and China; the world’s largest market and one of the fastest growing.  On top of drawing Chinese travellers to visit and spend in Thailand, the route should also prove to be beneficial once Hangzhou becomes an accomplished center for tourism, business and transport,” said Tassapon Bijleveld, chief executive officer, Thai AirAsia.

Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, located among the highest mountains in the country.  In recent years, it has become an increasingly modern city attracting over five million visitors each year, of which around one fifth are foreign tourists.  According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand it is a destination “where both backpackers and luxury tourists can enjoy the ultimate Thailand holiday".

Thai low-cost carrier Thai Air Asia initially served the city from Bangkok alone for around five years, adding flights from Phuket in December 2009.  However, over the last three years it has built up a stronger presence in the Northern market and added flights to additional markets.  Alongside its initial routes and previously mentioned flights to Hong Kong and Macau it also currently offers non-stop services to Hat Yai and Krabi, and up until 2012 also flew to Singapore.

Operations at Chaing Mai International Airport are dominated by links to the Thai capital, Bangkok.  These accounted for just over two thirds of the total seat capacity from the facility in 2013.  However, there are some key direct international services, including flights into China by Air China (Beijing and Wuhan), China Eastern Airlines (Chengdu, Kunming and Tianjin) China Southern Airlines (Guangzhou), Juneyao Airlines (Shanghai) and Shandong Airlines (Chongqing).

According to MIDT data an estimated 4.03 bi-directional O&D passengers travelled between Thailand and China in 2012, up 40.5 per cent on the previous year with a particularly strong growth in the youth market, a sector that frequently make use of low-cost operators.  Around 188,000 of these passengers flew to or from Hangzhou, up 84.9 per cent on the previous year, and alongside the local demand to Hangzhou, Thai Air Asia also sees potential for passengers wishing to use the destinations as an alternative gateway to Shanghai.  “The city is a convenient jump off point to Shanghai, which is only a little over an hour away by high speed train,” added Bijleveld.

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