News that the Phuket airport enlargement project has stalled came in a brief announcement and interview session yesterday with the General Manager of Phuket International Airport, Wing Commander Prathuang Somkhom.
Wing Commander Prathuang confirmed there had been no bidders so far for the project.
In an exclusive report back in April, 2008, Phuketwan revealed the plan to enlarge Phuket's airport. Since then, a design has been approved. Not much else has happened.
The lack of progress leaves Phuket stuck with an antiquated facility that is not capable of coping with Phuket's steadily inclining popularity as a tourism destination.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra recently acknowledged the importance of Phuket and its tourism revenue stream but planning by Airports of Thailand - prceeding at snail's pace - appears to be a much greater problem than safety and security concerns.
The present obsolete Phuket facility, capable initially of handling 6.5 million arrivals and departures, coped with 8.4 million movements last year and is expected to handle more than nine million passengers in 2012.
With new resorts constantly opening on and around Phuket and the Phuket property business depending on villas and condos finding occupants who will mostly be Phuket visitors, the lack of progress with the airport expansion leaves Phuket in a particularly parlous position.
As the date for the beginning of construction of the new airport slips back, so does the completion date. It will now be finished sometime in late 2015 - provided a start is made before September.
And with no contractor signed, a September start for the Phuket airport expansion is so much pie in the sky.
The expansion would increase Phuket's capacity to 12.5 million arrivals and departures. But with the steady growth of visitors likely to increase as Phuket rates attract mass-market traffic, the new airport will barely be able to cope . . . if and when it opens.
Airports of Thailand has not revealed its plan for expansion of Phuket air facilities beyond the new international terminal. Bali's new airport, capable of handling 25 million passengers, is due to open in 2013.
Wing Commander Prathuang and Tatchatchai police told journalists yesterday that, in line with a directive from Bangkok, a crackdown is to begin soon on the estimated 1000 illegal taxis operating at Phuket International Airport.
When asked where Phuket police, hard-pressed to cover all bases with existing low numbers, would find extra staff to perform the crackdown, the police officer smiled but did not answer.
Tsunami evacuation signage has recently been added at the airport following the tsunami alert earlier this year.