Monday, September 28, 2009

Thailand's tourist arrivals down 14 pct


Published: 26/09/2009 at 02:51 PM

The number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand over the first eight months of this year dropped 14.1 per cent from the same period last year to only 8.9 million, deputy spokesman of the Democrat Party, Atthawit Suwanphakdee, said on Saturday.

Mr Athhawat attributed the declining to impacts of the Songkran riots by the anti-government red-shirts in April and the pandemic of the A (H1N1) flu virus.

However, he was confident that the situation of the tourism sector will improve in the fourth quarter of the year as the number of foreign arrivals is increasing.

He called on both the red and yellow-shirt people groups to think of the country and refrain from rallies that could worsen the country’s ailing economy.

Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport 'plagued by problems'


Published: 27/09/2009 at 10:19 PM

After three years in operation, Suvarnabhumi which aims to be the top 10 best airports in the world is still plagued with problems.

The airport, which began its first commercial opening on Sept 28, 2006, had the problems even before the construction started. Policies on the new airport had been initiated and changed by past governments until it was settled at a 215,000-rai area at Bang Phli district in Samut Prakan with the construction cost at 120 billion baht.

When it was opened on the first days, many people were excited to see the world's largest single terminal airport. The bustling atmosphere suddenly turned chaotic when a ticketing system and luggage-checking equipment did not function. But the problems were quickly solved.

Suvarnabhumi later encountered a series of problems that caused many passengers to think of more comfortable facilities at the aging Don Mueang airport.

The number of toilets was not enough to serve passengers. Direction signs were not clear, causing confusion to users. Up to 400 spots on its roof were also needed to be caulked after water came through them when there was heavy rain.

What seemed to be the most serious problem was small cracks found on taxiways and parts of runways. A worry over the safety of plans forced then Surayud Chulanont government to tell budget airlines to come back to temporarily use Don Mueang airport to reduce crowdedness and open way for repair work.

Airports of Thailand president Serirat Prasutanond has so far insisted on the safety of the taxiways and runways, reasoning the cracks occurred only at the ground surface while the whole structure are strong and meet acceptable standards required to serve more than 800 flights a day.

In fact, what constantly disturbs Mr Serirat and AoT executives is a problem concerning people.

Passengers have made complaints with the AoT over the robbery of their assets in luggage. An investigation found the act was mainly done by staff outsourced to transport and carry bags in the airport.

Strict measures were ordered by current AoT board chairman Piyapan Champasut to solve this problem.

Police were also asked to crack down on thieves whose gang, backed by some airport security officials, were later arrested as a result.

However, despite the frequent patrols of police, the AoT has failed to weed out illegal taxi and tour guides at the airport. For three years, their numbers have grown to 40 gangs colluding with some airport staff to swindle passengers.

The AoT has solved the problem by transferring staff responsible for supervising taxi and tourism services at the airport.

Mr Serirat said the AoT was aware of all problems and did its best to solve them. He still was still upbeat that all problems would not deter Thailand's plan to make Suvarnabhumi one of the wolrd's best airports.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thailand rejects Colombian dossier over Viktor Bout and Farc

Thailand Arms DealerA court of Bangkok rejected this weekend the dossier that Colombia presented to favor the extradition of the presumed Russian drug and arms dealer Viktor Bout to the United States. The Thai judge alleged that the request was out of term, but included in the American appeal a complaint of Bout, known as the Merchant of Death.

The Thai court said that the material sent by the Colombian official was not properly issued and that the case has already been finalized, so no new documents were to be admitted.

United States appealed to the General Prosecutor of Thailand the sentence that denied the extradition of Bout. An American court looks to prosecute Bout for selling arms to the Farc guerrillas, conspiracy to assassinate American official and buying rocket launchers.

To support the American appeal, Jaime Bermúdez, the Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs, prepared a 300 pages dossier on the activities of Bout with the Farc, a communist insurgent group classified by UN, the European Union and Colombia as a terrorist organization. In the dossier, the Colombian government described the Russian as one of the ‘most dangerous illegal arm traffickers’ of the world and the main suspect in selling to the Farc hundred rocket launchers and other arms.

The Bermudez document exposes also 607 reasons why the Farc must be considered by Thailand a terrorist group and not a political organization.

Viktor Bout was a KGB agent and pilot. He was arrested in March 2008 by agents of the anti-drugs police of US in the Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok. In the beginning Thailand wanted to prosecute him as a supporter of terrorism, but the court concluded that there were not enough evidences. To this, US appealed the verdict using the Colombian report. The refusal of the appeal means that Bout can be free.

United States and Britain say that Bout is the leader of a powerful net of arms traffickers. He had connections with dictator regimes through Asia and Africa like Charles Taylor of Libera and Osama bin Laden. The fame of the Russian former KGB agent inspired the American movie Lord of War. Dout is represented by Nicholas Cage.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Report: Piper Aircraft pushing for Asian expansion

VERO BEACH — Piper Aircraft Inc., will open a new flight academy in Brunei and plans to hire an Asian-based executive there to oversee new business opportunities, according to a new report from a major aviation trade publication.

Piper Aircraft’s new president John Becker confirmed to Flight International that the company wants to partner with a pilot-training firm in the region to establish Brunei’s first flying academy.

Becker also told the publication the company is hiring a new executive for the flight school who would direct “four to five business opportunities” Piper is evaluating in Asia.

Piper spokesman Mark Miller couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Earlier this month, Piper Aircraft conducted three engineering job fairs in Minnesota, Texas and Kansas likely to ramp up development of the PiperJet.

Piper Aircraft previously announced on its Web site the company was filling 15 engineering vacancies at its local manufacturing facility. The Web site said the company “will not be seeking manufacturing candidates until further notice.”

Imprimis, a corporate finance and investment management firm backed by the Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Finance, purchased Piper from American Capital Ltd. on May 1.

Piper is one of the largest employers in Indian River County. In September 2008, executives said Piper employed about 1,200 workers. Since then, an estimated 500 employees have been laid off, with the most recent layoffs occurring in July.

According to published industry reports, Piper also has instituted weekly furloughs every month until the end of the year.

Piper has not communicated with the county about plans to meet future performance measures to receive the remaining installments of its $32 million incentive package.

The incentive package is tied to employment levels and production of the new PiperJet. Piper had contemplated relocating to Oklahoma City or Albuquerque, N.M., before the local offer was presented in 2008.

Suvarnabhumi aiport in Thailand to get police station

280-member police force expected to make facilities entirely safe. -The Nation/ANN

Sat, Sep 26, 2009
The Nation/Asia News Network

Relevant authorities are planning to boost safety at Suvarnabhumi Airport by giving it a 280-member police force.

The airport police are expected to make the facilities entirely safe.

"If we have Suvarnabhumi Police Station to take charge of the airport, bad people roaming around there should finally disappear," Airports of Thailand president Serirat Prasutanond said yesterday.

He acknowledged that there were complaints about unlicensed tourist guides, unregistered taxis and baggage theft at the airport.

According to Serirat, the jurisdiction of the Suvarnabhumi Police Station would span over 20,000 rai of land.

Serirat disclosed the plan to form an airport police force after a meeting with relevant authorities.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban chaired the meeting.

Deputy National Police Commission chief General Watcharaphol Prasanratchakit said the National Police Office had been planning to establish Suvarnabhumi Police Station for quite some time.

"We are going to recruit and train staff for this station," Watcharaphol said.

He chairs a committee to solve problems and enhance efficiency at the airport.

Pending the establishment of the station, Ratchathewa police remain in charge of the country's largest airport.

When there are airport police in charge, police from Ratchathewa and Bang Phli stations will oversee the neighbouring areas of the airport only.

Cambodia to end Bangkok Airways domestic flights

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia's civil aviation authority said Friday it will not renew an agreement for Thai-owned Bangkok Airways to operate domestic services in the kingdom when it expires next month.

Bangkok Airways has been flying daily between Phnom Penh and the tourist hub Siem Reap -- home of the Angkor Wat temples -- since last year after its subsidiary, Siem Reap Airways, was grounded for safety concerns.

Mao Havannal, secretary of state for the state civil aviation, said the government will not extend the agreement for Bangkok Airways to fly the routes when it expires in late October.

"We have already informed Bangkok Airways about the decision," Mao Havannal told AFP without elaborating.

But it appears that the decision was made in order to give a boost to the country's new national airline, Cambodia Angkor Air, which was launched in July to promote tourism in the country.

Tourism is one of the only sources of foreign exchange for impoverished Cambodia, which is recovering from nearly three decades of conflict that ended in 1998.

The kingdom aims to lure three million tourists annually by 2010.

A number of foreign airlines, including Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways, currently operate direct flights to Cambodia.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thaicom proposes to use US satellite as replacement


Published: 24/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business

Thaicom Plc wants to bid for an in-orbit American satellite to replace Thaicom 2, which will be retired in 2010.

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry is studying the request from the country's sole satellite operator, said Nimit Damrongrat, an adviser to the ICT minister.

He said officials would have to review the company's concession agreement to determine whether it allows the purchase of an existing satellite to replace one that is going to expire.

However, he said Thaicom's proposal was interesting and might be better than leasing transponders from other foreign satellites to provide services.

The leasing option poses problems because questions arise about who owns the satellite, since the concession is considered a national asset, he said.

Mr Nimit said the purchase of an orbiting foreign satellite by bidding would require Thaicom to reposition the foreign satellite to the orbital slot of Thaicom 2 to continue servicing customers.

But he said that purchasing an orbiting satellite also had limitations, especially if its specifications and materials did not fulfil actual needs.

Constructing a new replacement satellite remains the best choice, as it meets the original terms of the concession.

The unnamed owner of the satellite Thaicom wants to buy is reportedly facing financial problems. An industry source added the unit was not functioning well in its current orbital slot because of interference from other satellites.

Thaicom shares (THCOM) closed unchanged at 8.15 baht yesterday on the SET in trade worth 143 million baht.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bangkok's Airport Rail Link open for test run on Oct 1

The Airport Rail Link will operate the test run on October 1, in preparation for official operation commencement on Dec 5 as planned.

Yuthana Thapcharoen, governor of the State Railway of Thailand, said on Monday that the public is invited to join the test run, with the tickets available at the Makkasan office or SRT public relations office. The train that connects Suvarnabhumi Airport and the city terminal in Makkasan will open for the public once a week.

After it is open for commercial operations, the train will charge maximum Bt150 for the express line and Bt15-Bt40 for the city line.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Video: First flight with Royal Thai Air Force Gripen

The first Gripen fighter for Thailand completed its maiden flight in Linköping, Sweden, on September 17. In 2008, Thailand ordered a complete aircraft and command and control system from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) in a Government to Government deal. The order includes a first batch of six Gripen C/D with associated equipment and service, one Saab 340 aircraft equipped with Erieye radar (AEW), a Saab 340 for transport and training plus an integrated command and control system with data links. The Royal Thai Air Force will start their training on Gripen in Sweden next year and the fighters will be delivered to Thailand in 2011. Available video includes views of the Gripen first flight for the Royal Thai Air Force.

1st Flight for Royal Thai Air Force Gripen

(September 16, 2009) -- The first Gripen fighter for Thailand completed its maiden flight in Linkoping, Sweden, today. The flight took off at 14:50 local time and lasted for 80 minutes with Saab test pilot Mats Thorbiornsson at the controls.

In 2008, Thailand ordered a complete aircraft and command and control system from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) in a Government to Government deal. The order includes a first batch of six Gripen C/D with associated equipment and service, one Saab 340 aircraft equipped with Erieye radar (AEW), a Saab 340 for transport and training plus an integrated command and control system with data links.

The Royal Thai Air Force will start their training on Gripen in Sweden next year and the fighters will be delivered to Thailand in 2011.

Source: Gripen International

Friday, September 18, 2009

Orient Thai counts on charters

Orient Thai Airlines has revised its business plan by cutting domestic flights operated by its low-cost subsidiary One-Two-Go and focusing more on chartered flight operations due to lower passenger numbers.

Airline founder and chief executive officer Udom Tantiprasongchai said One-Two-Go had reduced the number of daily flights by more than half to 14. Reduced were the flight frequencies from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket, Hat Yai and Trang.

Load factors of the flights were 50 per cent, the lowest compared to that of previous low seasons.

It is also temporarily halting operations between Bangkok-Nakhon Si Thammarat and Bangkok-Surat Thani for the same reason. The airline, however, will resume the two routes as well as operate a new route Bangkok- Krabi in the coming high season.

One-Two-Go has laid off 400 staff and asked the remaining 600 staff to take leave without pay or cut their working days. Most of the employees have seen a 25-per-cent cut in their salaries.

One-Two-Go recently rebranded itself as One-Two-Go by Orient Thai, and is now fully under the parent company's control. This brings it into compliance with international aviation law, which specifies that airlines should have their own aircraft.

Before this, One-Two-Go operated with aircraft borrowed from the parent company. The low-cost airline was subjected to tough investigation following the September 2007 crash in Phuket that killed nearly 100 passengers. It was then found that One-Two-Go had no aircraft of its own.

Udom said the Department of Civil Aviation had returned the operating license to One-Two-Go.

Moving into its seventh year of operations, Orient Thai Airlines will also focus on chartered flights servicing mainly overseas destinations. It also hopes to resume regular flights in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Burma, Udom said.

He said Thailand's commercial aviation industry had slowed along with the downturn in global business. While foreign tourists dropped on concerns about political problems, domestic travellers this year will also drop from a projection of 15 million to 8 million.

To woo back domestic travellers, the airline is launching a promotion called Siam Pass. Until the end of October, travellers can buy three types of air passes: Bt15,000 for a one-month ticket, Bt28,000 for a two-month ticket and Bt39,000 for a three-month pass. These allow an unlimited number of trips on One-Two-Go domestic flights in the period.

The airline said it expected to earn Bt2 billion in total revenue this year, mostly from chartered flights.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thaicom 5 Satellite

Thaicom 5 is a Thai geostationary communications satellite that was launched by an Ariane 5 ECA rocket from Kourou at 21:09 UT on 27 May 2006. The 2.8 tonne (with fuel) triaxially-stabilized craft will provide television and internet services to the Asia-Pacific region through its 25 C-band and 14 Ku-band transponders after parking over 78.5° E longitude. It will replace the aging Thaicom 1 and Thaicom 2 satellites that were launched in 1993 and 1994.

Thaicom 5 is a Spacebus 3000A model built by Alcatel Alenia Space of France, with a footprint covering four continents. The 2.8-tonne Thaicom 5, worth US$100 million, replaced Thaicom 3, which was near the end of its service life at the time of Thaicom 5's launch on 27 May 2006. Thaicom 5 is used for broadcasting, especially Direct-to-Home (DTH) television and High Definition TV, and other telecommunications services.

Satellite Name: Thaicom 5 (Thaicom 4, Agrani 2)
Status: active
Position: 79 E
Norad: 29163
Cospar number: 2006-020B
Operator: Thaicom Plc.
Launch date: 2006-05-27
Launch site: Guiana Space Center
Launch vehicle: Ariane 5 ECA
Launch mass (kg): 2766
Dry mass (kg): 1220
Manufacturer: Thales Alenia Space
Model (bus): Spacebus-3000A
Orbit: GEO
Expected lifetime: 12 yrs.
Call sign:
25 C-band and 14 Ku-band transponders to provide television and Internet services to the Asia-Pacific region.
  • C-band Global Beam (active)
  • C-band Regional Beam (active)
  • Ku-band IC Beam (active)
  • Ku-band Thailand Beam (active)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Royal Thai Air Force receives its first ATR 72-500 VIP aircraft

September 14, 2009 Thailand’s RTAF (Royal Thai Air Force) today took delivery of its first ATR 72-500 from a contract that was signed in 2007 for four ATR 72 VIP aircraft. This first ATR features a state-of-the-art VIP cabin interior and will be dedicated to the transport of the Thai Royal Family, as well as other Government and military officials.

The aircraft is powered by two PW 127M engines, and is equipped with ATR’s optional front passenger door. The remaining three ATR 72-500s will be delivered before the end of the year.

ATR aircraft have been operating in Thailand since 1990, with three airlines, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and PB Air, currently operating ATR 72s. The aircraft delivered today is the first being ordered by the Government.

Stéphane Mayer, Chief Executive Officer of ATR, declared: “We are confident that these specifically designed VIP ATR aircraft will fulfill the transportation needs of the highest authorities in Thailand”.

He also underlined “the importance of the strong support base of ATR in South East Asia, which is definitely contributing to our continued success in this part of the world. Airlines, as well as Governments, know they can count on our expertise and our proximity to efficiently operate their ATR fleets.”

Commenting on ATR presence in South East Asia, he added: “Our support facilities include the Asian ATR Training Center (AATC), located in Bangkok and equipped with two Full Flight Simulators, enabling us to provide high qualified training courses to pilots and engineers throughout the region. In addition, we rely on ATR Eastern Support (AES) in Singapore for spares and technical support to all our operators in Asia and the Pacific.”

The ATR –500 series

With its ATR 42-500 and ATR 72-500, ATR supplies state-of-the-art aircraft with the highest standards of comfort. The advanced six-blade propeller provides remarkably low noise levels. All ATR models are compliant with noise regulations and have a large margin with regard to Chapter IV (ICAO) regulations. The ‘-500 series’ feature the lowest fuel consumption per passenger and CO2 emissions of the regional aviation, thus contributing to make ATR the “Green Player” of the regional aviation.

Country: Germany Type: Industry & Suppliers Status: premium
Company or Organisation Portrait:
The RTAF is one of the most prestigious air forces in South East Asia. It counts a large fleet of various types of military and civil aircraft, featuring very modern and updated technology.

Toulouse, Southern France-based regional aircraft manufacturer ATR is the world leader in the 50 to 74-seat turboprop market. ATR is an equal partnership between Alenia Aeronautica (a Finmeccanica company) and EADS. In 2008, ATR posted an annual turnover record, with US $ 1.3 billion. ATR is certified ISO 14001, the worldwide standard in the field of environmental respect.
Company or Organisation Contact:
ATR Press Contact
Tel: +33 5 62 21 66 14

Friday, September 11, 2009

THAI fails to transfer four long-range jets

...they could turn them into boutique hotels and park them at the airports around Thailand.....

Dismantler only offer at cut-rate price

Published: 11/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business

Thai Airways International has failed in its most recent attempt to sell four long-range jets after the bidder low-balled the flag carrier, sources say.

A THAI Airbus A340-500, the type of jet for which the airline has struggled to find buyers, takes off from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The bidder, believed to be a US aircraft dismantler, offered only $50 million apiece for the Airbus A340-500 jetliners, roughly a quarter the price THAI paid for them and significantly lower than the current $230-240 million price new.

The price offer left senior THAI executives dumbfounded, prompting them to consider abandoning any further bids to sell the aircraft, said THAI insiders.

THAI has spent more than a year searching for buyers who would offer a reasonable price for the aircraft, which can fly 16,000 kilometres non-stop.

Despite a number of verbal offers the only repeat bidder was the US aircraft dismantler, which reportedly wanted the aircraft to sell the parts.

"It seems impossible to sell them at a reasonable price. The market for this aircraft is quite niche and there seems to be little or no demand for it now," said a senior THAI executive.

The A340-500s were put up for sale after the airline terminated its daily Bangkok-New York flights last July.

Back then surging oil prices made the New York route unviable.

While THAI waits for buyers, the aircraft have been deployed on the Bangkok-Los Angeles non-stop routes and on the new Bangkok-Oslo service since June 15.

The only sensible option left for THAI is to keep the A340-500s and do a better job of utilising the planes for long-haul flights.

THAI intends to increase the frequency of its non-stop Bangkok-Los Angeles and Bangkok-Oslo flights for that reason, which will see the four jetliners fully utilised.

To make the aircraft more economical THAI is considering re-configuring the seat layout by removing business class and premium economy class seats to make room for about 50 more economy class seats.

Relate Search: Thai Airways International, THAI Airbus A340-500

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Royal Thai Police orders 3 EC155 Dauphin helicopters from Eurocopter South East Asia (ESEA)

Hong Kong | Eurocopter, the world’s leading helicopter manufacturer is pleased to announce the contract signature of 3 EC155 Dauphin helicopters with the Royal Thai Police (RTP) at Asian Aerospace in Hong Kong. These 3 new medium weight twin-engine helicopters will be delivered in 2011 and will be dedicated to VVIP missions.

Dr. Bernhard Brenner, President of Eurocopter South East Asia declared at this occasion, “We are delighted at this proof of confidence from the RTP. We have been present in Thailand for nearly 20 years and have recently opened a branch office in Bangkok to provide better support to our customers in the region. We are constantly improving our range of products, equipment and services in order to better satisfy our customers’ needs both in this country as well as in the rest of the world.”

Captain Chesda Indrasthitya, Aviation Commander of Royal Thai Police added, “This is not the first time that we are buying the EC155 helicopter. There are already 2 EC155s in our current fleet and our past experiences have shown that it is a truly versatile helicopter which fully meets our mission requirements.”

The EC155’s high speed, increased payload and long endurance capacities render it an ideal tool for various law enforcement operations ranging from patrol and airborne surveillance to Search and Rescue missions. With the largest cabin and lift capacity in its class, the EC155 can deliver elite tactical units of up to 13 members and equipment over long distances.

Many law enforcement authorities in the world are currently operating the EC155 helicopter, for instance in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, Japan, Germany, and United States, not forgetting Thailand of course. Often employed in Europe to patrol land and sea borders, the EC155 is mainly used to patrol territorial waters and for fire fighting missions in Asia.

Today, Eurocopter has become the reference in law enforcement and homeland security segment with an international market share of over 50% and an European share of nearly 90%. 28 countries throughout the world are currently operating Eurocopter helicopters for security missions - the most important markets are found in the United States, South America, Europe and Asia, with high growth potential in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, without forgetting China.

Country: Germany Type: Industry & Suppliers Status: premium
Company or Organisation Portrait:
Eurocopter South East Asia (ESEA) is the Regional Headquarters of Eurocopter, the world’s leading helicopter manufacturer. Established in 1977 in Singapore, ESEA is in-charge of the sales and customer support activities of 14 territories in the region. In 2008, ESEA achieved a turnover of 85 million Euros. With a staff-strength of nearly 200 professionals, the company has developed a successful commercial network of Singapore-based sales team and regional sales managers and technical representatives.

Established in 1992, the Franco-German-Spanish Eurocopter Group is a Division of EADS, a world leader in aerospace, defence and related services. The Eurocopter Group employs approx. 15,600 people. In 2008, Eurocopter confirmed its position as the world’s No. 1 helicopter manufacturer in the civil and parapublic market, with a turnover of 4.5 billion Euros, orders for 715 new helicopters, and a 53 percent market share in the civil and parapublic sectors. Overall, the Group’s products account for 30 percent of the total world helicopter fleet. Its strong worldwide presence is ensured by its 18 subsidiaries on five continents, along with a dense network of distributors, certified agents and maintenance centres. More than 10,000 Eurocopter helicopters are currently in service with over 2,800 customers in more than 140 countries. Eurocopter offers the largest civil and military helicopter range in the world.
Company or Organisation Contact:
Tel : + 33 (0)4 42 85 60 51
Mob :+ 33 (0)6 72 83 90 67

Pek-Kee SUM
Tel : + 33 (0) 4 42 85 17 13
Mob :+ 33 (0) 6 28 82 12 06

Christina GOTZHEIN
Tel: + 49 (0) 89 60 00 64 88
Mob.: + 49 (0) 151 14 22 92 43

Dominique FOUDA
Tel : + 33 (0) 4 42 85 95 71
Mob :+ 33 (0) 6 78 03 34 38


Friday, September 4, 2009

Work begins on Thailand's U-tapao Navy Airfield upgrade


Published: 2/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business

Work is finally under way to upgrade U-tapao, the Navy-operated airport that played a vital role in ferrying home 100,000 passengers stranded by the Bangkok airport blockades late last year.

The U-tapao tarmac was packed with planes during the Bangkok airport seizure late last year. The new passenger terminal will be nearly four times the size of the existing one and capable of handling 1,500 passengers per hour, compared to 400 now.

The Royal Thai Navy has a budget of 995 million baht for the expansion that includes building a new passenger terminal, improving taxiways, fuel depots, firefighting systems, X-ray machines, cargo units and other facilities.

The upgrade had been planned for years but only approved recently as the government saw an urgent need to have an alternate airport in case of emergency shutdowns of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) threw aviation and tourism into chaos in late November last year when they seized the two Bangkok airports for eight days.

The scale of the upgrade of U-tapao, located 190 km southeast of Bangkok in an area bordering Chon Buri's Sattahip district and Rayong's Ban Chang district, will be modest. But it is considered adequate for emergency use.

The new passenger terminal will be nearly four times the size of the existing one and capable of handling 1,500 passengers per hour, compared to 400 now.

The new terminal deals with the most significant bottleneck at U-tapao, which was stretched well beyond its limit when thousands of fleeing passengers scrambled to get flights out of Thailand during the PAD protests.

U-tapao's runway is 3,505 metres long and 60 metres wide, with an apron capable of parking 49 aircraft, considered adequate for use in a crisis.

The airport is still home of the Royal Thai Navy First Air Wing and during the Vietnam War it was a frontline base for B-52 Stratofortress bombers of the United States Air Force.

According to Rear Adm Surapong Ayasanond, the U-tapao deputy director, the new two-storey terminal will be modelled on that of Phitsanulok Airport and will handle both domestic and international passengers.

The existing single-storey terminal, covering 2,610 square metres, will be used for military, VIP and private planes. It has been largely unused since the two Bangkok airports resumed operations.

U-tapao now serves a few domestic scheduled flights per day, mainly Bangkok Airways' ATR-72 turboprops between U-tapao and Samui and Phuket, in addition to a small number of chartered flights from Russia.

The Navy's Civil Engineering Department is now designing the new terminal and tenders are expected to be called in the first quarter of next year.

"Toward the end of next year, the upgrade should be up and running. That's the mandate given to us," said Rear Adm Surapong.

Aside from serving as an alternate to Suvarnabhumi, U-tapao will be used as a gateway to Pattaya, 23 km away, bringing international passengers directly to the resort, bypassing Suvarnabhumi.

It will be renamed U-tapao Pattaya International Airport to link its identity with the resort city and promote its tourism industry. Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Khunplome was recently named to the U-tapao's board.

Relate Search: People's Alliance for Democracy, Royal Thai Navy First Air Wing, U-tapao Pattaya International Air