This number has to be a guesstimate because of the rapidly changing landscape. It's based on announcements of new services by V Australia (Sydney, Australia) Thai AirAsia (Kuala Lumpur/Bangkok) and Jetstar (Melbourne, Australia). The calculation is based on the types of aircraft each airline has said they'll employ and assumes 80% loading for each inbound flight.
Following through on these calculations, the high season arrivals for just these three airlines could look something like this:
Commencing 22nd November, V Australia (the Richard Branson backed long-haul offshoot of the Australian budget carrier Virgin Blue) will fly twice weekly direct flights from Brisbane to Phuket. From 3rd December, they'll operate direct flights once a week from Melbourne. They'll use Boeing 777- 300ER long range aircraft on both routes. Each aircraft can accommodate 361 passengers. With a load factor of 80%, that works out to around 866 incoming passengers a week.
Starting 15th December, Jetstar will operate Airbus A330-200 services daily from Singapore and three flights a week from Sydney and Melbourne. That represents a maximum capacity of 4,848. Again, assuming a load factor of 80%, this will translate to 4,848 arrivals.
Thai Air Asia announced in August that it intends to develop its Phuket operation into a major hub servicing cities like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City and Chiang Mai. No flight frequency was announced at the time. However, let us assume that they operate at least flights three times a week from each of these cities. Using the same assumptions as above, this translates to an additional 2,592 passengers.
Of course this data on extra flights relates to only three airlines. Thai Airways has already resumed its twice-weekly Tokyo to Phuket flights since last July. They're using Boeing 777-300s which have a 303 seat maximum capacity.
Airlines also come and go, some permanently, some temporarily. Fortunately, Nok Air and One-Two-Go, two Thai budget carriers resumed flights during the year after suspending services, the former because of economic problems and the latter due to regulatory issues, which were subsequently overcome. Firefly, a Subang-based Malaysian airline, started services mid-year, briefly suspended them, and then resumed services.
Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur, and Dragonair from Hong Kong have continued their services.
One of the most interesting aspects of the upcoming high season will be the number of charter flights flying into Phuket. Last year the number remained fairly constant at around 14 per week despite the recession. It's to be hoped that charter operators like SkyStar Airways, Transaero Airlines, Russia' Smart Wings, MyTravel Airways and Corsair, Denmark' Edelweiss Air, Switzerland' Novair, Sweden' TUIFly Nordic, Norway' LTU and Condor Flugdienst, Germany' Air Europa Lineas Aereas, Finland' SkyStar, Korea' Blue Panorama Airlines, Italy and XL France, Belgium will continue to service the island.
Most of these airlines come from high-end European tourist sources such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Italy and Finland. They represent a considerable level of business for the island and many hotel operators rely on them to boost their occupancies.
Indeed, without the facilitation of cheap and plentiful air travel, Phuket's tourism industry would not exist to anything like the extent that it does today. It appears the lure of Phuket as a prime destination remains remarkably enduring, compared even to its closest competitors like Bali in Indonesia.
By Alastair Carthew, a Phuket based writer and communications advisor.