Thailand to expand major airports to deal with rising tourist numbers

Facebook/Suvarnabhumi Airport

Thailand is set to expand at least four of its major international airports in response to the predicted return of foreign tourists following the Covid-19 pandemic. Deputy Government Spokeswoman, Traisulee Taisaranakul, announced the plans today. She noted that the expansion is aimed at accommodating predictions made by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) of 200 million foreign arrivals by 2031.

The four airports earmarked for expansion include Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Don Mueang International Airport, U-Tapao International Airport in Rayong, and Phuket International Airport. The construction of the Satellite Airport Terminal-1 (SAT-1) at Suvarnabhumi International Airport has already been completed and the Transport Ministry will begin using the new terminal this year, increasing the airport’s capacity from 45 million passengers annually to 60 million. A third runway is also being built and will be completed in 2024, allowing the airport to receive 94 flights per hour, up from its current 68.

Don Mueang International Airport’s Phase 3 development, approved by the Cabinet in November, will involve multiple constructions, including a third terminal, runway, and aircraft hangar, among others. The construction is set to begin this year and will be completed in 2029, increasing the airport’s passenger capacity from 30 million annually to 40 million.

The U-Tapao International Airport in Rayong will expand in four phases, Nation Thailand reported. The first phase is set to be completed in 2024, enabling the airport to accommodate 15.9 million passengers annually. Upon completion in 2055, the airport will be able to receive 60 million passengers a year.

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Phuket International Airport’s Phase 2 expansion project aims to increase passenger capacity from 12.5 million annually to 18 million and includes the expansion of the international terminal and aircraft hangars, as well as basic infrastructure improvements. Airports of Thailand Plc, the company responsible for running the airports, is in the process of selecting an advisory firm to set out the details of the project.

In preparation for increased international flights, the government has drafted a new civil aviation master plan, approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday, which will be in use until 2037. These expansions and the new plan demonstrate Thailand’s commitment to improving its aviation infrastructure and welcoming back international visitors.

Thailand’s prime minister says he expects the country to see more than 30 million foreign tourists this year. In light of his predictions, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed relevant agencies to facilitate tourists with travel plans and to ensure their safety in the country.

China’s border reopening has reportedly affected the latest tourism projections as the return of Chinese tourists is expected to inflate the number of foreign tourists this year.

Thailand’s government is now expecting at least seven to 8 million Chinese visitors this year, up from a previous forecast of five million. The new expectations would be more than half of the 11 million Chinese visitors recorded back in 2019, before the pandemic.

Last year, Thailand beat its tourism target with 11.15 million foreign visitors. That number was a large increase from 2021 when only 428,000 tourists entered the country due to worldwide Covid travel restrictions clamped down on any sort of international travel.

Before the Covid pandemic wreaked havoc on Thailand’s coveted tourism industry, the nation saw a record of nearly 40 million foreign tourists in 2019. The economy also benefitted from such a surge in tourism, recording 1.91 trillion baht from tourists’ expenditures.

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Tara Abhasakun

A Thai-American dual citizen, Tara has reported news and spoken on a number of human rights and cultural news issues in Thailand. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history from The College of Wooster. She interned at Southeast Asia Globe, and has written for a number of outlets. Tara reports on a range of Thailand news issues.

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