Director: U-tapao will not be profit-oriented

Director: U-tapao will not be profit-oriented

Navy's airport offered as a public service

An artist's conception of Royal Thai Navy-operated U-tapao airport's new passenger terminal, scheduled to open next June 1. U-tapao expects to handle 200,000 passengers this year, 800,000 to 900,000 next year, 1.5 million in 2017 and between 1.5 and 3 million in 2018.
An artist's conception of Royal Thai Navy-operated U-tapao airport's new passenger terminal, scheduled to open next June 1. U-tapao expects to handle 200,000 passengers this year, 800,000 to 900,000 next year, 1.5 million in 2017 and between 1.5 and 3 million in 2018.

Royal Thai Navy-operated U-tapao airport will be run as a public service entity rather than a profit-driven facility.

Rear Adm Worapol Tongpricha, U-tapao's recently appointed director, yesterday made it clear this was the purpose of the airport, as mandated by the navy but not widely understood.

He was attempting to resolve questions surrounding the navy's announcement that it would turn U-tapao in Rayong province into a fully fledged commercial international airport.

The term "commercial" implies the airport would be run as a business motivated by generating profits and being self-financed rather than relying on the state to operate it and fund investment plans.

But Rear Adm Worapol said U-tapao, built by the US more than 50 years ago during the Vietnam War, would be operated largely with balanced ledgers, taking in just enough revenue to pay off bills.

"U-tapao will be a public facility owned by the Thai armed forces, and we'll strive to balance revenue and expenses with some money being earned for the purpose of development,'' he told the Bangkok Post.

"Making a profit has never crossed our minds, and it's not necessary since that would burden consumers [in terms of higher charges]."

U-tapao achieved revenue of 70 million baht in fiscal 2015 ended Sept 30 and expects the figure will jump to 240 million in the present fiscal year.

Rear Adm Worapol insisted the navy would be largely in control of running the airport and discounted an industry suggestion that an entity experienced in airport management take over operations.

But he did not rule out allowing companies to run certain operations or become joint venture partners in some operations that have yet to be outlined.

Operations such as car park services or cargo facilities could be outsourced to private enterprises in the form of concessions, Rear Adm Worapol said.

More capital-intensive activities such as establishing in-flight catering facilities or a full-flight pilot training school could be undertaken as a joint venture with the navy.

Setting up the airport's IT system could be open to a joint venture or fully invested by the navy.

"Let's put it this way -- whatever investment we can make, we'll do ourselves,'' Rear Adm Worapol said.

In the interview, he addressed critical deficiencies in facilities pointed out earlier by the Airline Operators Committee, an industry body representing 86 international airlines and 26 aviation service providers, that it said was impeding the facility from becoming a respectable international airport.

One deficiency is the cargo terminal, for which the airport chief said two warehouses, each measuring 40x50x17 metres, would soon begin construction using navy funding.

Costing 120 million baht, they will be ready in next year's third or fourth quarter.

Rear Adm Worapol expressed confidence the navy could run the airport efficiently while completing the present expansion.

The navy has separated U-tapao's commercial operations rather than have the same staff running both the commercial and military sides, he said.

As a result, U-tapao's commercial side has its own management, with 195 naval personnel, rising to 260 next year once the new passenger terminal is up and running.

Rear Adm Worapol gave assurances the new 700-million-baht passenger terminal, now 60% complete, will meet its slated June 1 opening next year to cope with an expected surge in passenger traffic.

The new terminal will raise U-tapao's annual passenger handling capacity to 3 million from 870,000.

No-frills carrier AirAsia made U-tapao its fifth base in July, causing a leap in passenger throughput unseen since it was handed over by the US in August 1966.

U-tapao expects to handle 200,000 passengers this calendar year, up from 120,000 last year.

Airport management expects the number will reach 800,000 to 900,000 next year, rising to 1.5 million in 2017 and between 1.5 and 3 million in 2018.

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