Giving wings to the elusive aerotropolis
A US expert says an airport-centred urban development is within sight after previous failed attempts
John D Kasarda is the director of the Center of Air Commerce at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, president and chief executive of Aerotropolis Business Concepts LLC, president of the Aerotropolis Institute of China and editor-in-chief of Logistics, an international scholarly journal. He has also published more than 100 articles and 10 books on airport cities, aviation infrastructure, urban economic development and competitiveness.
Mr Kasarda chairs the annual Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition and has been an adviser to airports and governments around the globe. Under his leadership, the Kenan Institute was named the world's top air logistics educational institution by the International Air Cargo Association for its work on airports and economic development.
He is an adviser to the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office and was tasked with studying the development of the U-tapao aerotropolis and surrounding areas of the three EEC provinces: Rayong, Chon Buri and Chachoengsao.
Mr Kasarda's first study of master plan development for the U-tapao aviation city is complete. His team is now studying the development of the surrounding areas in the provinces.
Mr Kasarda sat down for an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post.
What's an aerotropolis?
An aerotropolis is a city that has an airport as a centre of the development. The aerotropolis enhances economic development in the areas within 20-30 kilometres from the airport. The development will benefit social and economic environments covering not only commerce but also industrial development, population and education, both regionally and for the country. It can create a linkage to other economic corridors.
An aerotropolis's primary value proposition is that it offers speedy business connectivity to suppliers, customers and enterprise partners nationally and worldwide.
Many aerotropolis firms, especially those in the high-tech, biomedical and advanced business services sectors, are time-sensitive and often more dependent on distant suppliers and customers than those located in their own metropolitan region.
For such firms, time is not only cost, it's also currency.
The aerotropolis also contains the full set of logistics and commercial facilities that support aviation-linked businesses, cargo and the tens of millions of air travellers who pass through the airport annually.
These facilities include freight forwarding and supply chain management, bonded warehouses, high-value food perishables, e-commerce and pharmaceutical distribution facilities; office buildings, hotels, and convention and exhibition complexes; health and wellness, research, and education services; and leisure and tourism venues.
With the increasing number of aviation-oriented firms, their supporting service providers and associated residential developments cluster around airports and outward along their highway and rail corridor. An aerotropolis emerges where air travellers and locals alike work, shop, meet, exchange knowledge, conduct business, eat, sleep and are entertained, often without going more than 15 minutes from the airport.
A new, dynamic urban growth pole forms, with multimodal transportation infrastructure (air, highway, rail and links to ports), efficiently connecting aerotropolis business and people to markets near and far, accelerating trade in high-value goods and services and enhancing the aerotropolis's local, regional, national and global economic importance.
A number of these clusters, such as Amsterdam's Zuidas, Las Colinas in Irving, Texas and South Korea's Songdo International Business District have become globally significant airport edge-cities representing planned postmodern urban mega-development in the age of the aerotropolis. The latest is the Zhengzhou airport economy zone, which is in the process of development. The Chinese government is developing the project step by step, with every stage being followed up with suggestions to the master plan.
Can the government's ambitious goals for the U-tapao aerotropolis and the EEC be achieved?
The time is right for the development of a Thai aerotropolis. The project is not solely an aerotropolis, but it is Thailand's future. The project plays a key role in Thailand because the project will drive economic growth. The project can increase the value of raw materials from rural areas, meaning that rural areas can generate improved incomes.
Raw materials from provinces in the Northeast can increase value for the EEC, while connectivity is a key for transport.
I am very confident that the government can develop the Thai aerotropolis successfully, because good infrastructure projects are under way, such as highway, motorways, the deep-sea ports in Laem Chabang and Map Ta Phut, Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-tapao airports, and the plan to build high-speed rail links to the three airports.
The area is also home to Pattaya, which can attract visitors from across the globe.
The development of S-curve industry and high technology needs exports and imports of raw materials that should be sourced globally and sold globally.
What's the key to the project's success?
The political [situation] is essential for the development of U-tapao aerotropolis and the EEC.
I'm confident that whatever government comes to power, the projects need to be continued for the future good of the country.
However, the supply of human resources to the project may be an obstacle for development. The government is on the right track in implementing dual-study vocational programmes, which can ease the shortage of vocational and high-skilled labourers in the short term.
The government's policy is also on the right track to support foreign academic institutes to open course studies to supply S-curve industry with workers in high technology and innovation.
Why did previous governments fail to develop the Global Transpark and aviation city at Suvarnabhumi?
I had earlier proposed the Global Transpark concept to the National Economic and Social Development Board headed by former secretary-general Pisit Pakkasem during Chuan Leekpai's administration. The Chuan government also agreed to implement the projects. However, the economic crisis in 1997 made actual action impossible.
At the time, people didn't understand the concept of global sourcing and selling. Thai industry 25 years ago had basic energy industries such as the petrochemical industry in the Eastern Seaboard Development, which was not suited to rapid transport.
I also was an adviser to Thaksin Shinawatra's government on the development of Suvarnabhumi airport. However, the project failed because of political problems within the party.