Bangkok: The severing of air links with Thailand’s capital a vital air hub that handles 3% of world air cargo and 100,000 travelers a day rippled through the region with airlines scrambling to reroute passengers and freight as hopes for a quick resolution to the crisis faded.
Thailand’s embattled government on Friday backed away from a threat to use force to disperse the protesters who have shut down Bangkok’s two commercial airports, setting the scene for a prolonged disruption to transport across the region and a massive blow to the kingdom’s economy.
Since Tuesday, dozens of airlines have canceled all flights to and from Bangkok until further notice while others made special arrangements to rescue passengers stranded in Thailand, some by utilizing a tiny airport southeast of the capital.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, the main gateway to Thailand, is one of the world’s most “densely connected” airports, serving about 100 airlines with flights to 184 cities in 68 countries, said Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways has scheduled two flights on Friday and Saturday from U-tapao airport to bring home Hong Kong residents, said spokeswoman Carolyn Leung. Air Macao and Malaysia’s AirAsia are also planning rescue flights to U-tapao.
On Wednesday night, protesters overran a second smaller airport that mainly serves domestic routes, cutting off all commercial flights to the capital of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy an important manufacturing hub for automakers like Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp.
Tourism officials and economists says the tourism industry’s losses over the remainder of the year will balloon to about 150 billion baht ($4.2 billion), equal to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product, with 2 million or more travelers canceling their plans.
Exporters in Thailand are aghast at the rapidly mounting costs of lost trade, estimated by the Federation of Thai Industries at 2 billion to 3 billion baht a day ($57 million to $85 million).