PHUKET: Work has begun on a 255-million-baht expansion of Phuket International Airport. A 120-million-baht expansion of the passenger terminal – to be completed early next year – will be augmented by the creation of two additional berths for aircraft, taking the total number of berths to 27 and costing another 98 million baht. A further 37 million baht has been allocated for improving cargo facilities. Lt Cdr Boonchart Prompoon, Director of the Airports Authority of Thailand, Phuket, told the Gazette that current facilities are inadequate to handle the numbers of arrivals and departures, especially when two or more fully loaded aircraft arrive at about the same time. Figures for arrivals and departures in Phuket in January topped 500,000 for the first time and flight numbers are currently about 40% up on the same period last year. “In a peak hour now, more than 900 passengers pass through the airport,” Cdr Boonchart said. “With these improvements, we should be able to deal with 1,200 passengers an hour.” In addition, the airport is awaiting approval of a proposal to extend the runway from 3,000 meters to 3,500m to allow fully-laden Boeing 747s to take off – an impossibility at present. “We have put this proposal to the Tourism Authority of Thailand and I hope the budget will be approved soon,” he added. The airport’s Deputy General Manager, Chan Chiamchareon, said that a study is under way to ensure the expanded airport will be efficient and staffed with enough officers to process passengers speedily. Passengers arriving in busy periods currently face waits of an hour or more because of a shortage of Immigration officers.
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