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Can Phuket International Airport cope with continuing record numbers?

Phuket Traffic Record Brings Airport Expansion Doubts

Monday, February 7, 2011
News Analysis

PHUKET'S high season continues to fly, with air passenger numbers up by 14.12 percent in January. But doubts are now emerging about Phuket International Airport's ability to cope with continuing increases in air traffic as construction doubles its overall capacity.

The contractor for the 5.8 billion baht project was supposed to be appointed in December, yet Phuketwan understands there was only one bidder for the tender. The vital but time-consuming process will have to be repeated again until at least three bidders apply.

Unanticipated delays are likely to impede the ability of the airport to cope with constantly increasing air traffic while at the same time, construction of a new air terminal is being carried out.

Telephone calls to the Bangkok head office of Airports of Thailand seeking a comment were not being answered today.

Last month's unexpected sudden transfer of airport General Manager Prathuang Somkhom only served to heighten concerns about progress on the project, by far the most important for Phuket's future.

Phuket International Airport went beyond its theoretical capacity of 6.5 million passengers in 2010 to set new records and eventually to exceed more than seven million comings and goings.

With January figures showing that the consistent upward trajectory is likely to continue or grow even greater, can Phuket's tourism industry be assured that the airport will keep coping with increasing flight and passenger numbers?

That question needs to be answered quickly. Development of Phuket is already geared to outpace the increasing number of visitors, and any hitch in the airport expansion, or an enforced cap on arrivals and departures, would damage the Phuket economy.

Back in August on a visit to Phuket, the President of Airports of Thailand, Serirat Prasutanond, said that the expansion of Phuket airport would be finished by March, 2014. This forecast was based on construction beginning in January 2011.

He also said that while the enlargement was geared to a capacity of 12.5 million passengers, the removal of staff housing at the southern edge of the airport could increase capacity to 15 million.

On the current rate of incline of passenger numbers, that additional work now seems essential.

Also essential now are assurances from the top that the Phuket International Airport can cope with additional flights and passenger numbers at the same time as the new international terminal is being built.

And beyond 2014? With Phuket's popularity soaring, a strategy needs to be in place to lay to rest concerns that once the airport is extended to its current perimeters, there is no capacity to add to air arrivals.

Elsewhere among rivals in the region, Bali's airport is to continue to expand to 17 million by 2020. Yet planning for Phuket's air arrivals appears to go no further at this point than 2014. What next?

Once again, the issue is the need for public discussion now about a strategy for the entire Andaman coast, and particularly for the Phuket-Phang Nga-Krabi axis, where over-popularity and unslowable development are likely to deliver clutter and chaos, with or without a plan.

Is there a strategic guide to avoid the clutter and the chaos, or are the key Andaman provinces doomed to gridlock and shophouses in every direction?

As for tourists, we know that the idea of developing another airport on the site of a World War II landing strip in Phang Nga was shelved.

We know that Ranong airport is too far north and Krabi airport too far west to ease the pressures of property expansion along the Andaman coast. So, what next?

It's time that AoT and the Government produced some answers.

The January figures show how the pressure is growing. International passenger arrivals and departures through Phuket increased 29.61 percent compared to the previous year.

Combined with domestic traffic, which hardly increased at all, that brought a total of 855,797 passengers coming and going through Phuket airport. Our records are not perfect, but we believe this is an all-time record for a single month.

December, for example, saw a total of a mere 731,064. As we said, the trajectory of the air traffic through Phuket is steep, and continuing to ascend. But how high can it go, and how fast?
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


What they should really jack up at the airport is the immigration setup. I personally find it unacceptable to wait for nearly two hours just get out the airport building.
Please speed up the process or make a special counter for farangs with Thai Visas and work permits, just to speed us through. Just a matter of time before an elderly passenger keels over from the heat and the exhaustion of the long wait. They should hand out complimentary water for such long queues. I use the word "they", in the context of those in charge of the airport and it's associated services.

Posted by GrahamM on February 7, 2011 12:13


Please also make a special counter for the tourists who do not want to be held up by immigration counting the visa stamps in Mr Graham m's passport.

Posted by Lord Jim on February 7, 2011 15:01


Due to personal reasons i had to go to KL and return and enter Phuket on a visa exemption just last week. As you say, long, slow moving queues... OK it is high season I said.

Finally get to be served and was told 'you cannot come to Thailand' i have had previous tourist visas but the guy proceeded to show me a copy of regulations saying I hadn't reported every 90 days as required?????

When I queried his intentions he directed me to another officer who asked me [1] are you working here?..NO. [2] Do you have a Thai wife? No but have fiancee..OK he go back to my friend and pay ''tip''.

No option but to pay ''tip'' and get the entry that i was entitled to from the start and for free!!! A long wait and then tea money to add insult to injury.

Good stuff Phuket!!

Posted by david on February 7, 2011 17:58


Dear david,
I had the same, sad experience exactly one week ago, coming back from Singapore. I have special Non Immigrant multi-entry, but they asked me, like you, the stamp for 90dyas stay. I never stay longer than 90 days I answered: I can't!! So they asked my WP!!! When I tried to complain, the other officers (a lady in particular) said to me that if I was searching for problems they could give me a lot.. I went to speak with the boss that suggested to me to give a tip. I had to do... But today I went to report everything to the Immigration Office Police in Phuket Town where suggested to me also write a letter to complain by the website of Immigration police...

Posted by Richard on February 7, 2011 18:21


Hi Lord Jim.
When I get to the counter I am processed in about twelve to twenty seconds, then I am through to the other side.
I find the persons who I have dealt with in the past at the counters, as courteous and professional.
It is just the long wait to get the counter that is an irritation we can all do with out.
Thank you.

Posted by GrahamM on February 7, 2011 18:26


Why not a fast track counter for business class passengers or gold card holders then Graham M? Look in the mirror again and ask yourself "Why am I so special"?

Posted by pete on February 7, 2011 18:47


I am special pete, as I have a high class business here, I have lived here for six years and have brought good revenue into the country by having high spending guests, read not zero baht tourists, they contribute greatly to the local economy.

Yes, I think that is kind of special.

What do you see in your mirror, pete?

Could it be a disgruntled person, or just a cheap charlie who complains a lot?

By the way, I always fly first class, pete? Can you do the same?
They also do fast track private charter flight clients at the airport.

The airport is even building a separate terminal for the "Special" private guests.

So maybe a little extra effort for those who contribute to local economies and families with dependents here, would be a nice touch?

Adhere to the law, or the law will adhere to you.
Thank you.

Posted by GrahamM on February 8, 2011 06:00


Hi Richard.. i talked to an english guy at Phuket town imm office, and he said that basically it is up to the whims of the imm officers at the time you present to them. No matter how correct and in order your documents are, it still comes down to the individual officer saying yes or no to you/us!!

He has the power to refuse entry, he knows this all too well, so when the tea money fund needs topping up...guess what? TIP PLEASE...

Posted by david on February 8, 2011 11:40

Monday December 4, 2023
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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