Airports chief wants upgrades

Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) has sought a further upgrade of Don Mueang and Phuket airports to be carried out in tandem with existing expansion work to cope with the soaring traffic.

Under the plan submitted to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the state-controlled airport operator advocated raising the passenger handling capacities of the two airports further to 60 million and 18 million, respectively.

“It’s imperative for us to get further expansion [at Don Mueang and Phuket] going if we are to catch up with the fast-growing traffic demand,” AoT president Mekin Petplai told the Bangkok Post.

The current multi-billion-baht work envisages boosting Don Mueang's capacity to 30 million passengers a year and Phuket's to 12.5 million.

AoT management sees the need to immediately proceed with the further upgrade as passenger traffic at the two sites will soon consume the capacities being added under the present construction.

Passenger throughput at Don Mueang is expected to jump by an annual average of 25% over the next five years due to the proliferation of low-cost carriers that have become deeply entrenched at the airport, which has been turned into a leading air hub for budget airlines in Southeast Asia, Mr Mekin said.

Don Mueang's passenger traffic is expected to reach 19 million by the end of this year, surpassing the currently available capacity of 18.5 million, as LCCs step up traffic through it during the post-coup recovery in tourism.

Traffic through Phuket is also growing fast due largely to the resort's growing popularity as one of the world's favourite tourist destinations. Passenger traffic is projected to soar to 12.5 million by the end of this year, way over the 6.5-million-a-year capacity presently available.

AoT expects to boost Don Mueang's annual passenger handling capacity to 30 million by December this year when the 3-billion-baht work to restore Terminal 2 and improve the southern corridor and Pier 5 are completed.

Beyond that, AoT wants to restore the airport's domestic terminal, carry out other improvements on existing infrastructure and streamline operations to increase capacity to 60 million passengers by 2016-17.

A second international terminal at Phuket airport to raise its annual capacity to 18 million passengers a year has been mooted.

It is hoped that the facility, estimated to cost 3.7 billion baht, will be up and running by 2018, providing a relief to the likely congestion.

The additional upgrade comes as the current 5.7-billion-baht expansion at Phuket airport is facing a delay by as much as one year behind the expected year-end completion date, as the contractor, Sino-Thai, is encountering a myriad of construction problems.

Meanwhile, Mr Mekin said he believes that the NCPO also sees the need to have the Phase 2 expansion of Suvarnabhumi carried out even though it has placed the 62.5-billion-baht scheme under scrutiny.

The project would increase annual passenger handling capacity at Bangkok's gateway airport to 60 million from the current 45 million by 2017.

The junta has stalled the project to verify the high costs involved and issues of transparency.

Suvarnabhumi has been operating above its capacity. For the nine months to June this year, it handled 35.55 million passengers, down by 6.9% over the previous period, due in part to the political unrest.

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