The future of Mae Fah Luang – Chiang Rai Airport may be limited with Airports of Thailand reported to be considering closing it along with Hat Yai airport in the south of Thailand due to low passenger numbers and lack of services.
According to The Nation, the decision to possibly close both airports may also be due to financial considerations.
In Hat Yai’s case, AoT is considering consolidating services with both the existing and planned second airport in Phuket as passengers and flights through the airport are declining.
The reasoning behind closing Chiang Rai Airport, however, is not as clear. Chiang Rai Airport had 2.8 million passengers in 2018, nearly double the number it had in 2015 and is Thailand’s eight busiest airport. The airport continues to see healthy growth with AirAsia having launched four new routes from the airport in January although one service, a direct flight to Singapore, was cut in August.
The nearest airport to Chiang Rai is Chiang Mai, just over 200 kilometers to the south or a three hour, 30-minute drive due to the never-ending roadworks on Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai Road (Highway 118) through Pa Miang, Doi Saket. How you would transport millions of passengers who want to visit Chiang Rai on that highway is impossible to guess.
Notably, Thailand does have a number of smaller airports that are not operated by AoT which operate without issue – airports in Lampang and Nan for example and do so without the risk of closing down.
The final decision has not been made with AoT said to be seeking additional sources of income to cover losses but the fact it is even being considered is short-sighted at the very least.