Don Muang busiest budget airline airport in the world

Less than a decade after it was shuttered and replaced by the $4-billion Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the reopened and reinvigorated Don Muang has emerged as the world’s busiest airport for budget airlines, with 22.5 million passengers using the facility each year.

It is a stunning comeback for an airport that was mothballed in 2006, and a testament to Thailand’s burgeoning and resilient tourism sector. The fact that Don Muang owes its newfound success to the growth of budget airlines is also evidence of the maturity of Thai tourism, as diverse and various niche markets within the tourism sector are all thriving.

Speaking at the Low Cost Carrier Airports Congress Asia 2015 held in Bangkok last week, Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, president of Airports of Thailand (AoT), a state-run enterprise, quoted figures that put Don Muang ahead of Kuala Lumpur’s airport with about 22.5 million budget airline travellers passing through Don Muang each year.

The airport, which is operated by AoT, was designed for a maximum of 18.5 million passengers each year. Suvarnabhumi, or New Bangkok International Airport, has also surpassed its capacity of 45 million passengers a year and is undergoing expansion and renovation.

In response to a rapid growth in passenger traffic over the past three years, AoT is speeding up renovation work on Terminal 2 at Don Muang so it will be ready for the high tourism season, which begins in November.

Once renovations are complete, Don Muang will be capable of handling 30 million passengers a year, Nitinai said, with further work on the drawing board to allow it to eventually handle 40 million passengers a year. New budget airlines from China, South Korea and Japan are all planning to begin using Don Muang once the renovations are completed, creating the expectation of a surge in passenger traffic.

Nitinai predicted budget passenger traffic in Asia would continue to show strong growth because international airlines had made purchase orders for 8,000 new aircraft, with 2,800 ordered by airlines in Asia.

Don Muang was built in 1914 as a base for the Royal Thai Air Force, but expanded to handle commercial flights in 1924. By the 1960s, Thailand’s government foresaw that Don Muang would eventually need to be replaced by an airport with greater capacity. It took over 40 years, however, for a new airport to move from blueprints to opening.

When Suvarnabhumi Airport was opened in September 2006, Don Muang was closed and consigned to history. It soon became apparent, however, that air traffic through Bangkok had grown so large that it was beyond Suvarnabhumi’s capacity.

Don Muang was reopened less than a year later in March 2007. At first, budget airlines resisted shifting their operations back to Don Muang. Today, the airport is the budget airline capital of the Kingdom – and now according to AoT statistics, the world