Full-scale launch of U-tapao airport pushed back once again

Full-scale launch of U-tapao airport pushed back once again

U-tapao airport's new passenger terminal. Teething problems delay the full-scale opening. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
U-tapao airport's new passenger terminal. Teething problems delay the full-scale opening. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA

The full-scale commercial launch of the upgraded U-tapao airport in Rayong has been put off again, this time until the end of the year.

Teething problems with the 1.7-billion-baht expansion, initially slated to open this month, have forced the airport to be delayed by some five months.

After the new passenger terminal was put to the test in an intensive trial recently, it was decided some adjustments needed to be made with more time required to put certain facilities in place.

"We would rather spend more time perfecting our facility before declaring ourselves fully-commercially operational, because we don't want to open too soon and discover some problems have yet to be ironed out," Worapol Tongpricha, director of U-tapao Airport Authority (UAA), told the Bangkok Post yesterday.

One problem the airport authority is looking to solve before opening is the passenger flow layout, which needs to be reviewed to ensure domestic and international passengers are separated by a glass "curtain wall" that does not pose a security threat.

The launch of the airport has also been delayed by the installation of two sets of aerobridges, which are behind schedule and expected to be completed over the next four months.

Rear admiral Worapol said it is critical that these two features of the airport are in place before any commercial launch. Minor works also need to be made, he added, such as expanding toilet facilities.

"We want to make sure that our airport has no issues when it undergoes an audit by the CAAT (Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand) in compliance with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) standards," RAdm Worapol said.

The UAA will ask the CAAT to come and inspect the airport, which was built four decades ago and served as a major staging and refuelling base during the Vietnam War, for certification in November.

But while those works are being carried out, the new passenger terminal, which covers a floor space of 20,000 sq m, and supporting facilities remain operational to accommodate the small number of passengers transiting through.

Those additional works, estimated to cost 90 million baht, have not forced the company to go over budget, he noted.

The late opening will not impact the airport's handling of international passengers during the high season, starting at the end of October.

The airport last year handled 710,000 passengers, 80% of whom were AirAsia passengers, and is forecast to see visitor numbers jump this year to 1.2 million.

The new passenger terminal was designed to handle 3 million passengers a year, a significant increase from the 870,000 handled previously.

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