U-Tapao and Laem Chabang set for expansions

Whether by air or by sea, access to the Eastern Economic Corridor is set to expand in a major way as over $10 billion in renovations to increase capacity at U-Tapao International Airport and Laem Chabang deep-sea port will be put up for bidding to local and international investors, government officials said last week.

Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary-general of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) office, said that $4.4 billion would be poured into U-Tapao and $6.2 billion into Laem Chabang to upgrade, renovate and expand. Both projects are key transport and logistics facilities for the Corridor, a three-province high-tech development zone east of Bangkok that will serve as the showcase for Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy designed to propel the Kingdom to a more advanced level of development.

The relevant authorities are drafting terms of reference for each project, Kanit said, with those for Laem Chabang expected to be ready in a matter of months, while those for U-Tapao should be published by early 2019. Both projects are estimated to take about five years to complete.

Last year, more than one million passengers arrived at U-Tapao, up from 700,000 the previous year. Under the expansion project, the authorities plan to increase annual capacity to 15 million passengers a year. Eventually, however, they envision U-Tapao handling as many arrivals as New Bangkok International Airport, or Suvarnabhumi, which has a current capacity of 60 million passengers.

The expansion of U-Tapao will include a new runway, air-cargo facilities, an aviation-training center, and an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul center. The total area to be used will be roughly 2,570 acres. Plans are also afoot to connect U-Tapao to Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok by a high-speed rail line.

Porntipa Taweenuch, of the Port Authority of Thailand, said that the environmental health impact assessment for Laem Chabang was complete and under review. Some amendments to the assessment might be necessary, but are not expected to take long.

“The approval or any requests for amendments would be finished within six months. Then we can start an international bidding process to choose potential port terminal operators.”

The capacity for the handling of shipments will increase by 7 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), bringing full capacity to 18 million TEUs.