If there would be a price of the fastest growing airport within the ASEAN community, the top award would definitely go to U Tapao International Airport next to Pattaya.
AirAsia decision to open its newest Thai gateway at the navy-run air facility -formerly a US air base- suddenly firmly anchors the airport in ASEAN international air network.
Until July of this year, U Tapao Pattaya was only served by two scheduled flights a day from Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui and Phuket.Total daily capacity was then 140 seats a day in each direction. In addition to Bangkok Airways activity, Pattaya was also served by regular charter flights, mostly from China and Russia. High landing fees and a relatively unwilling Thai Royal Navy of managing the airport with a more commercial approach were responsible to U Tapao stagnation over the last 15 years.
But it has since then all changes as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha approved U-Tapao transformation into a proper commercial airport under Royal Thai Navy supervision.
With lower fees for new flights offered now by the navy, the AirAsia group finally seized the chance of turning U Tapao Pattaya into a full-fledged international airport. AirAsia Bhd (Malaysia) was the first to open regular services to Kuala Lumpur with four weekly frequencies.
Since then, Thai AirAsia has been basing two AirbusA320 at the airport, gradually increasing its presence. Thai AirAsia opened already seven destinations with four new routes launched last Friday. The airline has now 154 frequencies per month (one way), representing 72% of all flights and 85% of the 29,863 monthly available seats. By comparison, U-Tapao Pattaya had in December 62 flights with a total capacity of 4,340 available seats.
So far flights have shown More capacities and routes are due to come: TAA will start flights to Hat Yai by the middle of the month. It now looks at offering more domestic routes with potentially Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen and Ubon Ratchathani while international routes could be launched to India, Indonesia (Jakarta for example), China and Malaysia (Penang or Johor Bahru).
U Tapao airport could then welcome this year between 200,000 and 250,000 passengers, more than doubling passengers’ figure of the year 2014. And the airport could see between 800,000 and 900,000 passengers in 2016 before reaching the million-mark in 2017…