After the resumption of domestic flights on May 1, most airports, except Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao, have remained closed to international flights.
The CAAT order allows all international airports, including Krabi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Samui, Surat Thani, Hat Yai and Hua Hin, to handle special status international flights, such as those repatriating foreign nationals or flying home Thai citizens.
Phuket International Airport was not specifically named on the CAAT list but has been operating selected flights for some time now to repatriate overseas citizens.
On Saturday (May 2) an Aeroflot flight flew 296 Russian passengers off the island and back home. The following day, 14 Chinese nationals were repatriated on a specially arranged flight.
Phuket International Airport will continue to be shut to the public until May 15 at the request of Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana but will permit landings and takeoffs of overseas repatriation flights. The island has been one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the South, with 220 infections and two deaths so far since the virus outbreak began.
However, scheduled, commercial flights to and from overseas destinations remain off-limits to international airports after the CAAT extended the ban on them on April 27 until the end of the month in a sustained effort to contain the outbreak.
The CAAT announced earlier that all commercial flight permits granted for this period have now been cancelled.
The agency added that the ban does not apply in special cases such as for state or military aircraft, emergency landings, technical landings without disembarkation, humanitarian aid, medical and relief flights, repatriation flights and cargo flights.
The persons on board aircraft arriving in the country from overseas will be subject to measures under the communicable disease law, such as 14 days of state quarantine and regulations under the emergency decree, according to the order.
Airports are allowed to operate these international flights from 7am to 7pm, which are the same hours that domestic services have been running since May 1.
Airlines are required to inform their customers about the virus containment measures and health check procedures that will be performed at airports.
Passengers must be told of these measures at the point of sale and again when they arrive at the airports to check in for their flights, according to CAAT.
Passengers who are unable to comply with the measures must be rebooked on another flight with no penalty fee incurred.
Limited domestic flights resume
The CAAT ruling comes after limited domestic flights resumed last Friday (May 1). All international passenger flights remain banned.
The news was announced in a notice posted on the official Facebook page of the Airports of Thailand (AoT) management at Phuket airport at 5:50pm on April 29.
Governor Tavipatana explained in the notice that the extension of “temporary suspension of operations at the airport” was an extension of his request for AoT to cease operations at Phuket airport from April 10 to April 30.
That notice explained that the purpose of the formal notice was to inform CAAT and other tourism-related offices so they could make preparations for the closure.
“From the meeting today (Apr 29), the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee all agreed to extend the closure of Phuket International Airport for 15 days, from 00.01am of May 1 until 23.59pm of May 15,” the notice explained.
“According to COVID outbreak situation, Phuket has the second-highest number of infected people in the country and the highest infection rate (per capita) in the country. Even though the rate of infection is falling, we still have new confirmed cases every day [sic] in many areas of Phuket [sic].
“So we still have to screen and observe for people at risk,” it added.
“Hence, the Phuket Government still has necessary reason to control the port [airport] in order to prevent any outbreak.
“We would like to inform the relevant officials to prevent local people and tourists from being affected, and other relevant sectors, who may be affected by this order,” the notice assured.
“If any relevant officials [are affected] and need to do anything that involves this order, please inform the Phuket Government as quickly as possible so consideration can be taken,” it added.
Unprecedented public hygiene measures
Four airlines resumed domestic flights on May 1 with unprecedented public hygiene measures employed to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.
Nok Air, AirAsia, Thai Lion Air and Thai Vietjet Air were allowed to reinstate flights between 14 provinces after a month-long suspension now that the number of COVID-19 infections was falling.
The 14 provincial airports are in Lampang, Tak’s Mae Sot, Phitsanulok, Buri Ram, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, Roi Et, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani and Krabi, in addition to Don Mueang airport and Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.
The airlines are required to comply with additional health and safety measures prescribed by CAAT.
Perspex barriers have been installed to block contact between passengers and airport officials, according to Tawee Gasisam-ang, director-general of Department of Airports.
The department has also stipulated that disinfection chemicals must be applied to all contact points and surfaces as well as passengers’ luggage. Airport staff are required to wear face shields, masks and gloves, and all passengers will be required to pass through a thermal scanning area.
In order to maintain social distancing, the CAAT has reduced the number of passengers allowed on shuttle buses to 20 per trip instead of the usual 60.