Government expanding U-Tapao airport to boost logistics

5_airport7The government will spend more than $30 million to upgrade U-Tapao Airport, once famous as a base for U.S. military flights during the Viet Nam War, with an eye towards turning the old airport into a key logistics center, taking advantage of its location on the Eastern Seaboard, Thailand’s industrial heartland.

U-Tapao Airport Director Rear Admiral Worapol Tongpricha, said the expansion would also take place over a two-year period, with most of the work being done this year. The government will spend $17 million this year and the remaining $13 million next year.

“The new investment will improve the aviation communication system, navigation aids system, runway and taxi way as well as other facilities in the airport,” he said. The airport also aimed to improve the airport’s safety and security in order to meet standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

U-Tapao’s facilities and strategic location have given it great potential as a logistics hub, as demonstrated during the response to the 2004 Asian Tsunami, when aircraft from the United States and other nations used the airport as a key loading and refueling center to deliver aid and equipment to affected countries from Indonesia to Bangladesh.

Excelling in logistics is a key element in Thailand’s regional economic competitiveness and the government is keen to further develop the Kingdom’s already sizeable lead in this area compared to many of its neighbors.

“To make the airport an international logistics hub, we are forwarding our future investment plans and progress of our current plans to the Department of Civil Aviation for initial auditing. The ICAO, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit the airport within the second quarter of 2017 to oversee the overall operation,” the admiral said.

But U-Tapao also has potential as an airport serving passengers and tourism, thanks to its proximity to the resort city of Pattaya and the businesses and industrial estates of Chonburi and Rayong provinces.

Prior to the current plans, the government had granted a budget of $22.8 million to build a new passenger terminal at U-Tapao Airport in order to serve increasing tourism to the east coast of Thailand. The new terminal is under construction and is scheduled to open in August this year.

The airport now handles 4,000 passengers each day for a capacity of 800,000 passengers per year. Once the terminal is completed, it could serve up to 3 million passengers per year, and flight capacity of 60,000 per year.

Eight airlines are operating in and out of U-Tapao Airport. They include six scheduled airlines – Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia, Malaysia AirAsia, R Airlines, Kan Air and China Southern – with a combined 12 flights per day and carrying 4,000 passengers per day. There are also two charter airlines – Ika and North Wing – from Russia.

The admiral said that several Middle Eastern airlines had also inquired about using the airport.