By Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit
The department, part of the Ministry of Transport, is studying the feasibility of building a new airport in Don Sak district, in the eastern part of the province, where ferry piers serving Koh Samui are located, said Seree Chitsopa, the department’s deputy director-general.
The provincial administration proposed the idea to a mobile Cabinet meeting in Phuket. Local businesspeople do not believe that Samui Airport has brought prosperity to the provincial economy. The province decided to pay the Department of Civil Aviation Bt10 million to study the proposal and oversee a terms-of-reference framework, which will be finalised next year.
If the new airport is built, it will be the third one in the province, following Samui and Surat Thani International. Passengers would have the option to fly to Don Sak Airport and then embark on a ferry for the hour-long voyage to Koh Samui.
The airport would cover 1,500 rai (240 hectares) and cost Bt1 billion to construct. It would have a 2,000-metre-long runway, able to serve Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 jets.
Seree said that in his view the new airport was not a good idea, though he has not voiced opposition to it. The reason is that the province already has an airport that is only about 90 minutes from Don Sak. Also, it has high reserve capacity to serve passengers. It is capable of serving 80-100 flights a week, but now only handles about 40 a week. The terminal can accommodate 1,000 people if more than one flight come in at the same time.
Asked about reports of building a new airport on Samui, he said this was unlikely, as such a plan would be hampered by an environmental impact assessment, with at least 20 issues that would be unable to meet regulations.
Under its transport initiative, the Surat Thani administration also plans a high-speed-rail project to connect the province with the western provinces in the South, aimed at creating economic and logistical integration in the region, especially with Phuket.
Surat Thani International Airport is operated by the Department of Civil Aviation. The department oversees 26 airports nationwide, down from 28 after the closure at the facilities in Tak and Pattani provinces. It has put a big effort into attracting the private sector to run some parts of some of its airports, though not the whole thing, to reduce the financial burden of Bt4 million to Bt5 million per month at some of them.
This year, it will renovate and redecorate passenger terminals and modernise equipment at some airports to improve passenger convenience and traffic flow. Of the total budget of Bt440 million for this project, Bt190 million will be spent on Ubon Ratchathani Airport and Bt250 million on Udon Thani International Airport.