Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) is preparing to invest five billion baht (approximately US$155.6 million) to expand Phuket International Airport where congestion is approaching a critical level.
The expansion will raise the capacity of the country’s second busiest airport to 11.5 million passengers a year, six million international and 5.5 million domestic, from the current annual limit of 6.5 million, once completed in 2010.
The plan involves a new international passenger terminal, the upgrade of the domestic terminal, construction of additional taxiways and parking space for 11 more aircraft, up from eight currently.
However, the airport’s single 3,000- metre runway will not be extended, according to Phuket airport general manager Wicha Nernlop.
Passenger movement in Phuket last year reached 5.47 million, 22.6% higher than in the previous year, while aircraft movements rose 32.3% to 38,386.
This year, AoT projects a 9.5% rise in passenger movement to six million, with aircraft traffic, both take-offs and landings, increasing 7% to 41,000.
Between March and October, Phuket serves 27 scheduled airlines and 11 charter flight operators, with average daily plane movements of 120.
Congestion at the airport, especially during the high season from late October to April, has been a subject of complaints by international tourists, mostly from Europe, who flock to the southern resort island.
TUI Nordic, a leading Scandinavian tour operator, has said that its guests had to spend one hour or more to go through airport procedures during the last winter season, adding that crowding had become more critical since 2006. Phuket tourism industry executives have also warned that airport congestion would spoil the first impression of the island as one of the region’s prime holiday destinations.
Mr. Wicha said traffic through the airport would continue to rise and it would be further expanded so that it could eventually handle 15 million passengers a year, the volume expected in 2020.
A budget for the current expansion has been allocated and design work was under way, he noted and added that actual construction was expected to begin in 2010. Majority state-owned AoT operates the country’s six key airports.