Pattaya-U Tapao Airport to become “Bangkok Third Airport”?

U-Tapao new air terminal should finally be opened this year after a two-year delay. But it could rapidly joined by another passengers’ terminal as Thailand government has now ambitions to turn the airport into an air hub to support Greater Bangkok air transport needs.

While the US$480 million air terminal is due to open this year with a capacity for three million passengers, the Thai government is looking at dramatically expand facilities at the Marine-owned airport. U-Tapao airport is a 30 minutes drive south of Pattaya and was a major military basis for the US air force during the Vietnam War. Used as a military air field for the navy, it has been over the last 20 years being increasingly used to welcome charter and now regular flights for holidaymakers to Pattaya.

The military government wants now to turn the airport into a true air hub, supporting the growth of air transport in the Greater Bangkok region. Pattaya is only a 90 minutes drive from Bangkok and the airport could help take away some of the burden at both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports in the capital city.

the airport was recently given to a new authority, the U-Tapao Airport Authority (UAA) which is now in charge of running and develop the facilities. Future development could raise the total capacity to 15 million passengers a year. In the plans is a second 3,500 m runway and another terminal.A masterplan will be published in cooperation with US specialists.

The development would go in parallel to the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor which would extend up to Myanmar Dawei seaport area. Among economic activities touted for the EEC are aviation-related industries as well as tourism. U-Tapao is indeed less than an hour away by car from Laem Chabang Port which integrates Thailand’s largest cruise facilities.

Meanwhile, U-Tapao new air terminal with a floor space of 20,000 square metres is due to be opened to the public in August. It is expected to welcome this year 1.2 million passengers compared to 710,000 last year.

In 2016, total passengers’ output jumped by 2,000% as the AirAsia group opened abck to 2015 a new air base, offering flights to a dozen destinations. The network of the AirAsia Group includes this summer Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Phuket, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani as well as Macau, Nanning, Nanchang and Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia transported last year some 580,000 passengers.

Growth is due to accelerate this year, especially as Thai Lionair, another Thailand-based low cost carrier, announced plans to open a base at U-Tapao over the summer. According to the Bangkok Post, the airline is finalizing its expansion strategy out of the eastern coast airport with potential routes being considered to Sichuan (Chengdu and Chongqing) as well as to some domestic routes.