By The Nation
Apirat was accompanied by First Army Area commander Lieutenant Narongphan Jitkaewthae as they visited Army bases in Thanto and Betong districts of Yala and were received by Fourth Army Area commander Lt-General Pornsak Poolsawat.
Apirat’s entourage visited the 44th Border Patrol Police Taskforce in Thanto and met district officials and community leaders.
Apirat recalled being in charge of the two districts when he was stationed in the Fourth Army Area. He told the local people that he was happy to see Thanto experience a lot of development and sought their cooperation in keeping up its pace.
He said the areas would see further development once the construction of the Betong airport is completed.
The airport was initiated by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha when he was the Army chief in 1995, said Apirat, adding that when it is completed in 2021, the central government would pour money in to develop Betong as a major tourism hub with many visitors to boost the area’s economy.
Apirat also told officers of the 44th BPP Taskforce to be always on guard although the security condition in the region had much improved. He said once the airport’s construction was completed, the BPP taskforce must step up protection for visiting tourists.
Apirat and his entourage then proceeded to visit the Betong airport, where he recalled Prayut visiting the site in 2005 before making the airport happen 20 years later, when in 2015 he allocated the budget for its construction under the development plan for the five southern border provinces.
Apirat said the new airport would be useful in three dimensions – for economic, security and international ties.
Initially, the airport would have just an 1,800-metre-long runway, but the government has already decided to extend the runway by 300 metres to allow more Airbus and Boeing 737 and 747 planes to land.
Apirat said that the location of Betong airport is more than 100 kilometres away from other airports, it would play a useful role in encouraging tourism to the region. He said the closest airport to the one in Betong airport is in Penang, Malaysia.
Once the new airport is opened in 2021, it would be able to receive about 1 million passengers a year, or about 300 passengers per hour at rush hour. It would also serve as a trade gate for the region, Apirat added.