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The smoking room at Phuket airport, where time flies

Phuket Airport Needs Plan for Rapid Growth

Thursday, April 14, 2011
DETAILS covering the 5.8 billion baht expansion of Phuket International Airport and a timetable for sustaining Phuket's rapid growth in tourist traffic are expected to finally be revealed when the Airports of Thailand board gathers on Phuket on April 29.

Overcrowded though it is, the island's airport remains Phuket's core piece of infrastructure, the key to the tourism industry's future on Phuket and throughout the neighboring Andaman region.

Although the project was slated to begin in January, little has been said lately about the plan for the airport expansion, aimed at increasing the facility's capacity from the record seven million arrivals and departures in 2010 to 12.5 million or even 15 million.

What will happen after that? With Phuket geared to a rapid rate of expansion and resorts springing up left, right and centre in the hope that more and more tourists are about to jump on a plane for Phuket, the question needs to be answered urgently.

Part of the problem, one expert told Phuketwan recently, is that the number of international visitors to Phuket is often exaggerated - and many future resorts are planned on the basis of the false impression that Phuket already has seven million visitors when the real figure is half that, 3.5 million.

Phuket's airport cannot expand further once the new plan is implemented, so the Airports of Thailand management will need to determine what happens next very quickly. The expansion of Phuket airport is due to be completed in March 2014 - and at the present rate of increase in tourism arrivals, that extra capacity could be gobbled up sooner rather than later.

Some experts estimate the number of foreign tourist visitors could triple within 10 years, and at that rate, Phuket would need to cope with 21 million arrivals and departures in 2021.

The last complete public briefing on plans for Phuket airport's expansion came in August last year from the President of Airports of Thailand, Serirat Prasutanond, who told a seminar on Phuket that it might be necessary to expand the plan from coping with 12.5 million arrivals and departures to 15 million.

To grow to 15 million, existing staff quarters at the southern edge of the airport would need to be demolished, Khun Serirat said. The current rate of growth of Phuket passenger numbers seems to make that additional expansion no longer an option, but an essential.


Most of the 5.8 billion baht will be spent on increasing the number of Phuket airport's aircraft docking bays while building a flash new international terminal. The present terminal, already obsolete and unsuitable for Phuket's current day-to-day needs, would then be refurbished as a domestic terminal.

Phuketwan has learned that Phuket airport's toilets are about to be renovated immediately as a matter of urgency - a small step towards Phuket's giant leap into the future.

Unfortunately it appears little can be done quickly to ease the pressure on Phuket airport's frequently overcrowded Immigration facilities, where outgoing and incoming passengers to neighboring countries sometimes spend more time in the queues than they do on their flights.

Inevitably, some of those disgruntled Phuket visitors will not return until the island's airport has been improved. Changi in Singapore sets the local standard. Phuket travellers expect nothing less.

The problem for AoT is that Phuket has three more years of rapid growth in prospect before the new facility is ready. How will the airport cope between now and 2014 as passenger numbers continue to surge off the graph, and then some?

And beyond March, 2014: what's the plan for Phuket and the Andaman? Even if growth is fast-tracked at the existing companion airports at Krabi and to the north, in Ranong, those facilities remain too remote from Phuket and the Khao Lak coast, where the greatest growth in resorts is taking place now.

It's time for the resurrection of the plan to build a new Andaman airport in Phang Nga. One logical site would be the old Japanese-occupation airfield on Kho Kor Khao, an island close to the tsunami village of Nam Khem, although this site would also demand an expensive bridge link to the mainland.

The answers? We expect them to come on April 29.

Phuket's tourism spurt appears impossible to slow. Like a teenager regularly bursting out of new, one-size larger clothes, the island's ambitions always exceed its capacity to contain growth.

The number of new resorts constantly opening on Phuket and in the surrounding Andaman continues to race ahead of even the most positive projections for tourism tomorrow.

A future vision from AoT on April 29 that includes what happens between now and 2021 could help Phuket's heady ambitions to finally match its capacity.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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The forecast is for 25 million by the year 2070.

Posted by Sandy Shores on April 14, 2011 19:31

Editor Comment:

Forecasts beyond 10 years are not worth making.

gravatar

Any more info on this interesting statement ?
"Part of the problem, one expert told Phuketwan recently, is that the number of international visitors to Phuket is often exaggerated - and many future resorts are planned on the basis of the false impression that Phuket already has seven million visitors when the real figure is half that, 3.5 million. "

Posted by MediaWatcher on April 15, 2011 09:05

Editor Comment:

The figure of seven million air arrivals and departures is often misreported or misinterpreted. We've been told some people have even decided to build resorts based on flawed information.


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