July 24--Bangkok Airways will turn Chiang Mai into its third airport hub and use it as a stepping stone to boost its coverage of Myanmar.
The privately owned carrier is set to launch three routes from the northern capital to link with Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar as well as the northeastern city of Udon Thani in late October, according to insiders.
Services to Yangon and Mandalay will strengthen the airline's footprint in Myanmar, tapping fast-growing traffic demand.
Bangkok Airways is already the largest provider of flights from Thailand to Myanmar, operating three routes from Bangkok to Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw with a combined 40 flights a week.
From Suvarnabhumi airport, the airline operates four daily flights to Yangon, a daily service to Mandalay ? all by single-aisle A320 family jet ? and five flights a week to Nay Pyi Taw by ATR-72 turboprop.
It will offer four flights per week on the new Chiang Mai-Yangon route and three a week on the Chiang Mai-Mandalay service.
There will also be two flights a week connecting Chiang Mai with Udon Thani.
The three new routes from Chiang Mai will be operated by ATR-72 turboprops, considered an ideal aircraft for such short routes and for developing new markets.
The ATR-72 seats 70 passengers and has much lower operating costs than the Airbus 320 or 319 jetliners that Bangkok Airways has in its fleet.
They could be used if demand increases for the Myanmar service.
The opening of Bangkok Airways' new hub in Chiang Mai comes as the airline begins its transition from the ATR-72-500 to the new ATR-72-600 model.
The airline recently struck an agreement to acquire three more ATR 72-600s, adding to its original order for six made earlier this year, as it sees greater opportunities to grow its secondary routes using turboprops.
Bangkok Airways now operates a fleet of 18 A320 family jetliners along with eight ATR 72-500 turboprops.
The first new ATR-72-600 is set to join the airline's fleet in November, with four others due next year and the remaining five in 2016, when the last of the airline's eight ATR 72-500s is expected to retire.
Bangkok Airways will launch a non-stop daily jet service from Chiang Mai to Phuket in late October to spark its northern hub.
The airline's other hubs are Suvarnabhumi and Koh Samui airports.
Copyright 2014 - Bangkok Post, Thailand