Thailand is planning to make U-Tapao International Airport a third airport for Bangkok, as part of an ambitious government plan to beef up infrastructure in the eastern part of the country.
U-Tapao is 2 hr. by road from the capital, but this travel time is expected to fall to less than 1 hr. after a new high-speed rail link is completed. Bangkok already is served by Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi airports, but the Thai government believes those two facilities will reach capacity soon.
U-Tapao has one 12,000-ft. runway built by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. The airport currently serves about 8,000 flights per year, mostly leisure charters to the area’s beach destinations. The Thai government plans to build a second runway, which is expected to be completed by 2021, Ajarin Pattanapanchai, deputy secretary general of the government’s Board of Investment, told Aviation Week at the MRO Americas convention in Orlando, Florida.
The airport projects will be funded by the government. The high-speed rail project is expected to be a public-private partnership, which the government is currently negotiating. No time line for the high-speed rail’s completion was given.
The government also plans to build a new terminal and an MRO facility at the airport by 2021, she said. The planning has been completed, and ground will be broken next year.
U-Tapao also has the potential to be a logistics hub, Pattanapanchai said, because of its proximity to two deepwater ports.
Although Thailand is a short flight from the region’s main MRO hub in Singapore, Pattanapanchai said the government believes the MRO industry in Thailand could grow quickly in the near future. Aircraft maintenance demand in Asia continues to rise, and Singapore’s MRO facilities “are at capacity,” she said. On the other hand, Thailand boasts more space for new facilities and has created an educational pipeline for maintenance technicians. “About 300-400 trained maintenance technicians graduate in Thailand every year,” she said.
To boost the industry in the country, Thailand is granting new MRO companies an eight-year tax holiday, along with other incentives, Pattanapanchai said.