2 airports in northern Thailand cancel flights due to safety risks during lantern festival

BANGKOK – Two airports in northern Thailand said Wednesday that nearly 150 flights will be cancelled or rescheduled during a three-day festival next week when revelers launch lanterns into the sky that can pose danger to airplanes.

The cancellations will affect evening flights from Nov. 24-26, when Thailand celebrates the Loy Kratong festival.

Chiang Mai International Airport, the main airport in northern Thailand, said in a statement that it will cancel 84 flights, including 12 to international destinations, during the three-day festival period. It will also reschedule 51 flights.

Chiang Rai International Airport plans to cancel six flights and reschedule five during the same period, said airport official Saengduan Hongsaenkham.

Most of Thailand celebrates the festival by floating small boat-shaped baskets with flowers and candles into lakes and rivers to carry away their bad luck. But revelers in northern towns choose to send off their bad luck in hot-air balloons or lanterns.

Traditionally, the lanterns were from lightweight bamboo and paper, with a candle inside to provide hot air to lift them into the sky. But lately they have become larger and more powerful and sophisticated, with some using fuel canisters and heavy frames.

The Chiang Mai airport urged revelers to respect a city regulation that residents from five districts surrounding the airport can only release lanterns on Nov. 25 after 9 p.m.

Officials will be assigned to monitor the runways to remove any lanterns, the statement said. During last year’s festival period, 142 lanterns landed on the runway, down from 1,414 in 2013, thanks to awareness campaigns.