Cabinet approves aviation reform plan, Airbus to invest

Thailand’s Cabinet approved a reform plan for the country’s aviation sector last week that will allow private sector companies to invest in a $16.4 billion expansion of Thai airports through public-private partnerships as authorities prepare to handle a projected capacity of 277 million passengers in 10 years time, up from 130 million this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Thailand’s economic czar, will chair the soon-to-be-formed National Policy on Aviation Development Committee, to oversee and implement the plan. Aside from expanding Thailand’s three main international airports, it will upgrade and expand 36 provincial airports in all corners of the country.

A key part of the plan is establishing Thailand as the premier aviation maintenance and repair center in the region and perhaps all of East Asia. The government intends to develop U-Tapao as a commercial center and for the maintenance and repair hub.

Last week, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in attendance, THAI Airways International, the national carrier, and Airbus, the leading aircraft manufacturer in Europe, signed a cooperation agreement to jointly invest in the maintenance, repair and overhaul center.

“Many may have had an ambition to turn Thailand into a regional aviation hub in Asia and the Pacific, but in the past it was only a dream. But now that Airbus has decided to choose Thailand as an aircraft maintenance and repair center and THAI as a partner, this clearly shows Thailand is definitely a real hub in this region,” Somkid said.

The center will cost roughly $565 million and cover an area of nearly 800 acres of U-Tapao airport. Airbus said it is keen to have a top-of-the-line maintenance center in the region because 40 percent of the planes it produces are in service in Asia. Asia is projected to have the highest growth in air traffic and airline fleets over the next two decades, according to Airbus, which said it has orders to build 2,000 aircraft for Asian airlines.

“Our business is moving east,” Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said at the CEO Forum on “Airbus vision for Aviation in the Region and Thailand’s Role” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week.

“I can assure you that we will continue to be a major force in developing your country’s aviation sector and economy for many years to come. The memorandum of understanding for the [center] will enable Thailand to develop technology for aircraft for all of Asia and enhance human resources in the sector,” Bregier said.

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