New nodes of access

Development of secondary airports across Asia are helping to spread travel demand to emerging destinations


Marianne Carandang

CURRENT The main gateway to the island of Boracay is a one-and-a-half-hour drive away. Despite the Caticlan airport being only a 20-minute ferry ride from Boracay, tourists prefer to arrive via Kalibo due to the scenic ride as well as the runway problems at Caticlan, said Marlene Insigne, tours manager, Southeast Travel Corp.

Cebu Pacific recently launched a Hong Kong-Kalibo route in February, while Philippine Airlines (PAL) started services from Hong Kong and Incheon to Kalibo this month. AirAsia is reportedly looking at a Kuala Lumpur-Kalibo route.

Most Philippine carriers fly to Kalibo via Cebu, Clark or Manila. International airlines operate seasonal charters, such as Mandarin Airlines from Taipei and Jin Air from Incheon. PAL, Zest Air and Cebu Pacific operate Taipei-Kalibo routes, while Airphil Express organises charters from Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing. Zest Airways links Busan and Incheon.

In 2011, the Kalibo airport handled 5,420 domestic and 1,924 international flights. It received 609,628 visitors.

FUTURE The Philippine Department of Transport and Communications has earmarked P1.6 billion (US$37.9 billion) for an upgrade that will see a new terminal by mid-2013, a runway extension to at least 2.5km (now 2.2km), a runway widening to accommodate 45m-wide aircraft (it can now receive aircraft the size of Airbus A320s and A321s), and a new ramp to facilitate parking for up to eight aircraft. After expansion, the airport should be able to handle up to a million passengers.

Ernesto Brion, managing director of Cordym Tours and Travel noted that Kalibo was “currently small for its purpose”.

Insigne said the added capacity would help. “Planes are fully booked…but there are still empty rooms in Boracay,” she added. The upcoming Boracay Newcoast will further add 2,500 keys (four hotels) to the island’s 7,100-room inventory.


Duncan Forgan

CURRENT The new terminal at Danang International Airport opened last December and is set to rival Hanoi’s and Ho Chi Minh City’s (HCMC) airports with its facilities.

Built at a cost of VND1.3 trillion (US$62.7 million), the three-storey building is located adjacent to the existing terminal and has a handling capacity of up to six million passengers a year. The two 3km runways can accommodate larger aircraft such as Boeing 747s, 767s, Airbus 330s and 340s and Antonov 124s. Retail and F&B options are also plenty.

AirAsia Malaysia started flying between Kuala Lumpur and Danang last December, while both Asiana Airlines and Korean Air launched direct flights from Seoul to Danang recently. Other new regional destinations include Savannakhet by Lao Airlines and Beijing by Vietnam Airlines, while new LCC VietJet Air has launched a Danang-HCMC service in end-April.

Danang also has links to international destinations such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Singapore and Siem Reap. Local carriers Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific connect the coastal city to other domestic hubs.

George Ehrlich Adam, general manager-Vietnam, Exotissimo, deemed the new airport terminal a necessary step for Danang, as passenger levels had been rising by an average of 20 per cent since 2005 with no sign of levelling.

FUTURE The introduction of more international routes to Danang is fuelling travel to the area, which is already seeing rising visitor numbers attracted to its myriad attractions and growing array of luxury resorts and golf courses.

“Our business has increased by 30 per cent – much of that has to do with the new route from Malaysia,” said Pham Ha, managing director, Luxury Travel Vietnam. “Danang is going to boom – we will open an office to meet the increased demand.”

New routes from Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong are also on the cards.


Rahul Khanna

CURRENT The country’s second international airport is mainly served by domestic flights. Opened in 2000, it has a 4.3km runway and airport capacity of three million passengers per annum. There is sufficient space for 10 aircraft to anchor and Boeing 747-400 aircraft can be accommodated.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), the airport is capable of handling international flights and does not need any major refurbishment. However, there is only one scheduled international service to China. Last year, the airport received 50,000 international arrivals out of a total of 500,000 arrivals.

FUTURE According to a spokesperson from DCA, Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia and Thai Smile Air are considering direct services from Bangkok, and at least one is likely to launch flights by year end. Direct flights between Mandalay and Chiang Mai were also a possibility, he said. Air Mandalay previously operated that route.

Meanwhile, China Eastern has doubled its capacity on its daily Mandalay-Kunning route by using Boeing 737-300 aircraft since March.

There are plans to partially privatise Mandalay International Airport, although details are not available at press time.

“Tour operators have expressed their wish to put the Mandalay airport into use, so that they will be able to create new products starting from Mandalay to other parts of Myanmar,” said Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, managing director of All Asia Exclusive Travel and secretary of Myanmar Marketing Committee. It will also ease Yangon’s congested hotel situation, he added.

Flights connecting Laos and Cambodia would also appeal to tourists visiting the Mekong region who often look to combine multiple cities, said industry sources.


Liam Aran Barnes

CURRENT Sihanouville International Airport finally received regular air access when national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air launched thrice-weekly services from Siem Reap last December.

Since the late 1990s, Sihanoukville has been steadily rising as a tourist destination, but access has been limited to long bus journeys or taxi rides along poorly maintained roads. The airport, built during the 1960s with funds from the Soviet Union, has largely remained dormant until recent times.

Cambodia Airports, which now manages the airport, has so far invested US$30 million to extend the runway from 1.4km to 2.5km, enlarge its shoulders to 45m and increase the passenger terminal floor area to 1,000m2. The airport can handle planes as large as the Boeing 737.

While actual figures are not yet available for 1Q2012, Sihanoukville saw 131,440 visitor arrivals in January – a rise of 64 per cent – of which a quarter were foreign tourists.

FUTURE Local tour operators say the airport’s relaunch will mark a turning point in Sihanoukville’s development.

ANA Travel owner, Mick Spencer, said: “We’ve not seen huge numbers yet, as there’s a maximum capacity of 67 passengers per flight, but the biggest impact will be felt in the high season.”

Expanding routes to international destinations is the next step, which will boost Sihanouville’s appeal as a new destination, particularly for high-end tourism, said Mohan Gunti, Cambodian Association of Travel Agents advisor. A number of regional carriers, including Air Asia, have already expressed interest in mounting flights.

However, Spencer added that airlines interested to fly to Sihanoukville should commit to a one-year schedule to enable travel companies to market and sell the destination better.


Divya Kaul

CURRENT India’s first privately owned airport in Puducherry’s Karaikal will draw more attention to the region’s spiritual offerings when it becomes operational.

To be developed by Coimbatore-based Super Airport Infrastructure, construction of the Rs2.8 billion (US$52.9 million) airport will commence in September. The first-phase construction, which is expected to finish by August 2013, includes a 1.8 km runway and a 250 peak hour passenger (PHP) capacity terminal spread across 160 hectares.

Karaikal is known for its rich pilgrimage sites including Velankanni and Nagore, temple towns like Kumbakonam and Thirunallar, and historic sites such as Tarangambadi and Poompuhar.

According to K Dakshinamurthy, assistant public information officer, Puducherry Tourism Development, Karaikal receives about 100,000 tourists weekly, half of which come from Delhi alone. However, this figure also consists of families visiting their children or relatives studying and working there.

FUTURE “A lot of airlines have shown interest to operate from the airport. We are negotiating with a few, but it will be premature to divulge names,” said K Ramalingam, managing director, Super Airport Infrastructure.

The company also plans to further expand the airport with a 2.6km runway and a terminal building boasting 500 PHP capacity in about five years.

Gopal Krishnan, owner of, said: “The new airport will be a boon to tourists and pilgrims visiting Karaikal and the neighbouring district of Nagapattinam. We expect tourist arrivals to increase after the airport becomes fully operational.”

“The new airport will help us to market our packages to attract high-end tourists who want to visit Karaikal for religious purposes but are sceptical due to the lack of air connectivity,” said Vikram Dolia, director, Chetak Travels.


Timothy France

CURRENT The new Attapeu International Airport is being built in Laos’ southernmost province, about 26km from the provincial capital Attapo. According to local sources, the first phase is five per cent complete and the airport is on target for a June 2013 opening.

The US$45 million facility is being developed by Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group. This first phase will see the construction of a 1.9m runway with a width of 30m to accommodate aircraft of between 70 and 100 seats, such as ATR 72s and Fokker 70s. Further expansion will take place in the second phase from 2015 to 2020 which will see the runway extended to 3m with a width of 45m. It will then be able to accommodate aircraft with 150-250 seats. Based on state media reports, the completed airport will be handed over to the Lao government for management.

Laos Airlines is currently operating international flights to Pakse International Airport in the neighbouring province. According to the airline’s deputy marketing director, Soulasak Souvannasy, there are no plans to service Attapeu.

Marian Erenfeld, executive assistant manager, Bangkok-based Ultima Travel, said his company seldom runs tours to Attapeu, which borders Vietnam and Cambodia, due to lack of airline facilities and logistical problems as well as a low destination profile.

FUTURE Attapeu governor, Khamphanh Phommathat, said the new airport is expected to improve the province’s tourism prospects and provide a shot in the arm for the local economy.

Erenfeld agreed: “It will boost tourism in the area and open up Laos, together with North-eastern Thailand, which is still quite a remote area due to logistical constraints.”

However, other challenges such as high airfares to Laos in general in comparison with its neighbours still hinder tourism development, he added.

This article was first published in TTG Asia, May 18 issue, on page 16. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

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