Provincial airports to get big overhaul

The Department of Airports (DOA) is drafting a 20-year master plan to develop its 28 airports countrywide in a bid to increase passenger capacity and boost tourism in smaller cities.

Department chief Daroon Saengchai made the comments at a seminar held on Friday to introduce the proposal. According to him, this will be an addition to the 34 billion baht the DOA is already investing in its airports by 2027, under the first 10-year phase of the plan.

He said the first phase has thus far been split into two sub-phases. The first, between now and the end of 2022, involves expansion to 17 airports at a cost of around 27 billion baht.

Among these developments is the construction of a new passenger terminal at Tak’s Mae Sot airport which will open by the end of the year.

DOA plans also include the expansion of the airport’s runway from 1.5km to 2.1km to allow for international flights to Myanmar to resume and flights to China to be introduced.

The first sub-phase also includes the construction of the DOA’s soon-to-be 29th airport in Betong, Yala. The new airport, currently being built, is valued at around 1.9 billion baht and is set to open in 2020.

The second sub-phase, from 2023 to the end of 2027, involves another eight expansion projects, Mr Daroon said. These include expansions to Lampang and Trang airports, which will allow each of them to serve up to three million passengers per year.

Lampang’s current capacity is around 290,000 passengers per year, according to the DOA. while Trang’s yearly passenger capacity is around 800,000 passengers.

A DOA source said yesterday an accurate final costing of the remainder of the 20-year airport development master plan will be concluded in a year’s time. According to the source, the department is currently researching how much land it must expropriate for the initial expansion plans.

The DOA, a government organisation, manages most of Thailand’s provincial airports but has fewer passenger numbers compared to airports under Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT), which owns the country’s largest airports, such as Suvarnabhumi (in Samut Prakan) and Don Mueang international airports.

Suvarnabhumi alone handled over 60 million passengers last year.

The DOA, on the other hand, expects all of its airports to service a collective 19 million passengers by the end of the year. However, that number is expected to skyrocket to over 50 million passengers per year by 2037 in line with a predicted boom in tourist numbers.

Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn said after attending the DOA seminar yesterday that the department will coordinate with the Transport Ministry to ensure public transport links and the road network can keep up.

“If we only focus on developing airports around major provinces, everyone will simply go to the main attractions [in Thailand] without getting to know other secondary cities,” he said. “These smaller towns, with their hidden or under-promoted attractions, have much to offer and are worth promoting to tourists who visit the country.”

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