Saksayam pushes for AoT to add four airports

Krabi and Buri Ram among facilities earmarked to be taken over from Department of Airports

Passengers stroll through the terminal at Suvarnabhumi airport, the country’s main international gateway. (Post File Photo)

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob is pushing for Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) — the world’s largest airport operator by market value — to add four more local airports to its management portfolio by the end of this year.

AoT currently operates six airports, five of which rank as the country’s busiest. Mr Saksayam wants the SET-listed company to take over some high-potential facilities now under the Department of Airports, which oversees 27 civil airports.

The proposal was first floated last year, over the objections of the department. The Transport Ministry also said there might be legal issues related to the transfer of state-owned assets to another state enterprise, albeit one that is listed on the stock market. The Thailand Development Research Institute was hired to study the issue and ensure that the process is lawful and in the public interest.

AoT has a market capitalisation of 753 billion baht, down from more than 1 trillion baht at the end of 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to almost all international travel.

“The Department of Airports has many airports in its portfolio but not enough budget, while Airports of Thailand has the capital but not enough airports,” Mr Saksayam said in an interview.

The transfer would benefit both organisations and increase the country’s overall capacity to handle international flights, he said.

The proposed change would include facilities serving three provinces in the northeast — Udon Thani, Khon Kaen and Mr Saksayam’s base in Buri Ram — and another in Krabi, a tourist destination in the South.

AoT, which is 70% owned by the Finance Ministry, would be required to improve and operate the facilities, and the Department of Airports would still be paid some revenue on its properties — which it could use to fund smaller airports, the minister said.

“The transfer won’t have immediate significant impact on Airports of Thailand because 90% of international traffic already passes through its six airports,” said Ekasit Kunadirekwong, an analyst at Krungsri Research. Although Krabi International Airport may help relieve congestion at nearby Phuket airport, benefits will take at least five years to appear, he said.

Before the pandemic, the country was struggling to cope with the growing numbers of flights and passengers at some of its major hubs. Since March, though, borders have been closed to most foreign visitors while the government keeps adjusting plans to reopen the vital tourism sector.

“At some point, we’ll have vaccines for Covid-19,” Mr Saksayam said. “Once everything returns to normal, we want to make sure that we can handle the traffic.”

AOT shares closed on Friday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 54 baht, up 1.25 baht, in trade worth 1.2 billion baht.