Friday, August 11, 2017

Thailand's U-tapao International Airport = An update summary

  • The full-scale commercial launch of the upgraded U-tapao airport in Rayong has been put off again, this time until the end of 2017.
  •  Expansion is stated to cost 1.7-billion-baht. 
  •  The new passenger terminal covers a floor space of 20,000 sq meters.
  • The airport in 2016 handled 710,000 passengers, 80% of whom were AirAsia passengers.
  • Forecast is for 1.2 million passengers in 2017.
  • The new passenger terminal is designed to handle 3 million passengers a year, up from the 870,000 handled previously.
  •  U-tapao was built four decades ago and served as a major staging and refueling base during the Vietnam War.

Published on Jul 20, 2015
Thailand is enlisting U-Tapao airport, a Vietnam War-era navy base, to help ease worsening congestion of commercial flights in Bangkok's main gateways. Photo: Warangkana Chomchuen/The Wall Street Journal

American use of U-Tapao during the Vietnam War

Prior to 1965, U-Tapao was a small Royal Thai Navy airfield. At Don Muang Air Base near Bangkok the USAF had stationed KC-135 air refueling tankers from Strategic Air Command (SAC) for refueling tactical combat aircraft over the skies of Indochina. Although Thailand was an active participant in the war, with a token ground force deployed to the Republic of Vietnam and a more substantial involvement in Laos, the visibility of the large US Air Force tankers in its capital was causing political embarrassment to the Thai government.

In June 1965, the B-52F was first used in the Vietnam War. B-52F aircraft taken from the 7th and 320th Bomb Wings were sent to bomb suspected Viet Cong enclaves in South Vietnam. The B-52Fs were stationed at Andersen AFB on Guam, the operation being supported by KC-135As stationed at Kadena AB on Okinawa. By November 1965, the B-52s were able to support the 1st Air Cavalry Division in mopping up operations near Pleiku.

The Seventh Air Force (PACAF) wanted to have additional B-52s missions flown into the war zone; however, the B-52 missions from Andersen, as well as from Kadena AB, Okinawa, required long mission times and air refueling. Concerns about base security with having the aircraft based in South Vietnam led to the change of mission at Tuy Hoa Air Base from that of basing B-52s there to one of a tactical air base. It was decided that, as the base at U-Tapao was being established as a KC-135 tanker base to move them out of Don Muang, to also base the B-52s there where they could fly unrefuelled throughout both North and South Vietnam.

The construction of U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield began in October 1965; the runway was built in eight months and the base was completed slightly more than two years later. The 11,500-foot (3,505 m) runway was opened on 6 July 1966 and the first aircraft to land was a Royal Thai Air Force HH-16 Helicopter, then a USAF C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.

With the completion of U-Tapao, most American forces were transferred from Don Muang, and U-Tapao RTNAF became a front-line facility of the United States Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam War from 1966 through 1975. B-52 operations from UTapao began in April 1967.

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