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Phang Nga’s New Gateway: A Bold Vision for Andaman’s Aviation Future

Amidst soaring post-pandemic tourist demand, Phang Nga Province reveals a groundbreaking proposal for a new aviation powerhouse.

As Phuket’s airports brim to capacity, Phang Nga emerges as the new frontier for Thailand’s Andaman aviation dreams.

Given the increased tourist demand in the Andaman provinces following the global pandemic, there is a growing consensus regarding the urgent need for an innovative aviation solution. In conjunction with influential industry stakeholders, regional tourism operators are presenting a persuasive argument for the establishment of a new airport in Phang Nga. This proposed development has the potential to surpass the prominence of Phuket and position itself as the preeminent aviation hub in the southern region.

In a recent meeting with the new Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, Pongsakorn Ketprapakorn, president of the Tourism Council of Phang Nga, articulated the pressing need for a new airport. The proposed location is Khok Kloi, and it comes at a time when expansions at Phuket airports are hitting their limits.

The numbers underline the urgency: Phuket’s airport, constrained by its physical boundaries, currently handles around 12.5 million passengers per year. In contrast, a new facility in Phang Nga could, according to a preliminary study, comfortably accommodate double that, boasting a runway that could welcome the large stalwarts of the skies like Boeing 747 and Airbus A380.

Infrastructure doesn’t end at the runway. The vision includes linking the Andaman provinces seamlessly. As outlined by Mr. Pongsakorn, an electric bus project is also on the anvil to ensure efficient transport from the new airport, reaching Phuket in an hour and Krabi in two.

The rationale is clear.

“The recovery of tourism in Phang Nga is already at 70% of its 2019 levels. With many hotels seeing full bookings for the upcoming high season, it’s evident that provinces along the Andaman coast are in dire need of a robust aviation solution,” stated Mr. Pongsakorn to Bangkok Post. Phang Nga alone boasts 150 hotels, offering 17,000 rooms, numbers that can only grow with a new airport.

However, the method of development is a sticking point. The majority of tourism operators are in favor of an airport developed and owned by the Airports of Thailand (AoT). There’s a strong preference against granting concessions to the private sector.

Such ambitions have been echoed by others. Thaneth Tantipiriyakij, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, mentioned that PM Srettha has already pledged accelerated development of this new airport.

Thai AirAsia’s CEO, Santisuk Klongchaiya, points out the advantages of Phang Nga’s proximity to Phuket, emphasizing the relief it would bring to the congested Phuket airport. Mr. Santisuk envisions a flexible model, where the new airport could be managed either by private entities, akin to Samui’s Bangkok Airways-run airport, or through public investment.

Speaking of Bangkok Airways, they’ve expressed keen interest in investing in this ambitious project, especially if the government leans towards a public-private partnership model. Their president, Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, views this as a golden opportunity, creating a new gateway for airlines transporting passengers to southern Thailand.

Beyond easing congestion, there’s a rising recognition of Phang Nga as an emerging hotspot for foreign tourists. This sentiment, combined with the anticipated growth in air travel, drives Bangkok Airways’ enthusiasm. Still, with operational costs on the rise post-pandemic, Mr. Puttipong’s focus remains balanced, emphasizing the need for strategic decisions and sustainable growth.

The tentative name for this groundbreaking project is the Phang Nga – Andaman International Airport. Slated to alleviate the pressure on Phuket’s airport, its primary aim is to serve Phang Nga, already a notable tourist destination.

With Bangkok Airways in discussions regarding a potential land lease and an environmental impact assessment in progress, the aviation landscape of the Andaman region is poised for transformation.

Timeline

Dec-2016: Initial talks between Bangkok Airways and Phang Nga Province begin.
Jul-2017: A temporary suspension on the project after a call for public consultation.
Aug-2019: AoT announces plans for the new airport to address capacity constraints and boost tourism.
Sep-2022: Thailand’s Cabinet approves various transfers and development plans, highlighting Phang Nga – Andaman International Airport’s potential opening in 2031.
Jul-2023: AoT is urged to continue its feasibility study for the new airport.
Sep-2023: Bangkok Airways expresses investment interest, with the government weighing its options.

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