As global air travel gathers momentum in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, airports across the globe are likely to encounter a slew of issues when accommodating more flights. Considering the impending challenges, Thailand’s Transportation Minister, Suriya Juangroongruangkit views expansion as the most pragmatic solution to enhance the capacities of these airports.
To actualize this solution, the Airports of Thailand (AOT) and the Department of Airports (DOA) have been commissioned to undertake extensive research. They will explore opportunities for the expansion of the current airports, as well as the potential establishment of new ones, in order to match the anticipated increase in travel volume.
Minister Suriya threw light on the limitations posed by the current infrastructure of Phuket Airport considering the mounting passenger traffic and unveiled the proposal of inaugurating a new airport in Phang Nga, situated close to Phuket. Preliminary surveys suggest that Khok Kloi Subdistrict in Phang Nga might be an ideal location for this new airport. The ministry is carefully evaluating whether the operations of this airport should be a partnership with the private sector, or if they should be managed solely by AOT or DOA.
In a bid to meet the demands of airlines, Minister Suriya is also working on strategies to increase available slots for airlines, another aspect currently under assessment.
Meanwhile, AOT’s President, Kerati Kijmanawat, revealed that the organization intends to allocate 10 billion baht for the expansion of Phuket Airport. With these enhancements, the airport is expected to support 20 million passengers annually, a significant leap from its current capacity of 12 million passengers. The expansion is slated to commence in 2025.
During the restructuring of Phuket Airport, AOT will leverage the chance to assess the feasibility of constructing Phang Nga Airport. The primary objective of this initiative is to facilitate 20 million passengers, thereby alleviating the congestion at Phuket Airport. Kijmanawat projects an investment of approximately 80 billion baht for this ambitious plan.
Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, the president of Bangkok Airways, disclosed that the company is fully prepared to invest in the proposed Phang Nga Airport. However, they will make their move only after AOT makes its investment intentions clear. If AOT chooses to invest in the airport, Bangkok Airways will hold back its new flight additions for a while. As Phang Nga boasts of a vibrant tourism industry, many tourists transit to the province after alighting at Phuket Airport.
Puttipong noted that since the pandemic, as many as eight airlines have launched direct flights to Phuket. This scenario creates a serious challenge for Phuket Airport, which currently has a single runway, to handle more flights. Therefore, the establishment of Phang Nga Airport could play a pivotal role in mitigating this congestion.
The Thai Airlines Association, which includes Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia, Thai AirAsia X, Thai Smile Airways, Nok Air, Thai Lion Air, and Thai Vietjet, is planning to arrange a meeting with the Transport Minister. They will deliberate on the policies required to accelerate the recovery of the aviation and tourism sectors.