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Wing Commander Prathuang Somkhom at Phuket airport yesterday

Future Phuket Takes Off Too Fast: Hold Onto Your Seat, If You Can Buy One

Saturday, February 18, 2012
PHUKET: The closure of Air Australia has exacerbated the choking of Phuket International Airport by the Phuket brand's sudden and sensational increase in popularity.

Phuket airport general manager Wing Commander Prathuang Somkhom said today that people wishing to fly to Phuket from Bangkok, even if they are VIPs, are having to book a seat at least a week in advance.

''The demand for Phuket flights is remarkable and it's of a kind that I've never seen before,'' he said.

Stranded Australian passengers struggling to find alternative routes home because of Air Australia's grounding are competing with regular tourists and passengers for space on overbooked flights.

''We topped a million passengers in and out of Phuket for the first time in January and I suspect that we will top a million passengers in and out again in February,'' Wing Commander Prathuang said today.

The Phuket airport, built for a maximum of 6.5 million passengers, reached 8.4 million in 2011. A new airport terminal is supposed to help Phuket cater for 12.5 million passengers by mid-2015.

But the wing commander said: ''That figure will be exceeded long before then. Planning has failed to keep pace with Phuket's popularity. As a destination, it is jumping before it has learned to crawl or walk.''

Wing Commander Prathuang said that Phuket International Airport catered for 23,000 passengers arriving and departing in January 2011, and with a remarkable 32,000 passengers a day in January 2012.

''There is no sign of this slowing,'' the wing commander said. ''We had a meeting between the Airports of Thailand leaders and most of the airlines just last week.

''Most of the airlines want more flights to Phuket, but we are now approaching our upward limit. And of course, the expansion of the airport won't be ready until 2015 - although we will exceed the carrying capacity of the enlarged airport long before then.''

The carrying crisis at Phuket International Airport means disasters such as the stranding of thousands of passengers merely intensify the crush.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her senior ministers are due to hold a Cabinet meeting on Phuket on March 18-20 - and it's assumed they have booked seats in advance.

Thailand needs the revenue from tourism and a cap on Phuket traffic at a time when Phuket has never been more popular would be wasteful.

But the crush is also bringing to a head other issues centring on lack of infrastructure, privatisation of beaches, lack of public transport, the thuggery of local taxi and tuk-tuk drivers and greed and corruption.

It is to be hoped the Cabinet focusses on the problems and does not just deliver handouts.

Phuket International Airport is the Phuket region's most important piece of infrastructure but forward planners have failed to grasp future Phuket's tourism needs.

The Yingluck Shinawatra government will have one chance only to set Phuket straight. Ending the corruption and delivering more funds to tourism, transport, education and health should be the main aim.

It would be a huge mistake to deliver funding for infrastructure projects without addressing the underbelly issue that are so often overlooked at great cost to the future of Phuket and its people.

An ''all ecofriendly'' Andaman that would include Phuket was proposed yesterday as senior administrators met to plan a series of requests for funding from the Thai Government.

Phuket will seek improvements to hospitals and confirmation of funding for a light rail from Phuket International Airport to Chalong in southern Phuket, plus the Patong Hill tunnel, Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha told the gathering.

Immediate funding would also be sought for two key Phuket City intersection underpasses or overpasses, the governor told the meeting at Provincial Hall in Phuket City.

Senior representatives from Phang Nga, Krabi, Ranong and Trang were also at the gathering, along with Pheu Thai Party spokesman Phrompong Nopparit, the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism, Senator Tunyaratt Achariyachai, and top provincial officials.

The meeting was aimed at selecting key projects to present to Prime Minister Yingluck when Cabinet meets.

An extension into the sea of the Phuket airport runway is likely to be considered, despite environmental concerns.

So is Phuket's water supply, which is often insufficient for the dry months because not enough is trapped in catchment areas during the wet monsoon season.

Phang Nga will be seeking a 200-kilometre four-lane highway link to Chumpon, plus an extension of existing railway lines to the Sarasin Bridge that links Phang Nga with Phuket.

With the crush at Phuket International Airport, this alternative is likely to be given high priority.

Phang Nga also hopes for a Prince of Songkhla University. Krabi aims to set up an international university to cater for tourism, while Trang will seek an airport expansion and an enlargement of the Pangmang Pier.

What the Phuket and Andaman region needs most is a forward-looking strategy that delivers timely planning for the next 20 years, keeps the beaches and coral reefs in perfect condition, provides hospitality and service to international standards, and wipes out corruption and greed.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


It's true. I tried to book Phuket/Bangkok return a few days ago (admittedly for flight the next day) and ALL airlines were completely sold out. Never seen that before in my life. With the bombs in Bkk I thought they'd be giving the flights away !

Posted by Mr Man on February 18, 2012 11:43


I think the visit of Prime Minister Yingluck would be a marvellous opportunity to expose the mounting violence and problems with Phukets taxis/tuctucs be they legal or not !!!

Posted by elizabeth on February 19, 2012 11:34

Monday July 13, 2020
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