Reports of U-Tapao expansion’s death greatly exaggerated

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Budget approved, contractor signed, work to begin imminently

The nearly 900 million baht expansion of U-Tapao Pattaya International Airport is moving forward again after rumors that the overhaul of the Vietnam War-era facility would be delayed proved untrue.

Royal Thai Navy officials have approved an 868 million baht budget and last month signed a contract with ESCON Construction Development Co. to begin transforming U-Tapao into a modern international facility.

The government announced expansion plans in May 2009 with a terminal capable of handling 1,500 passengers per hour, new parking facilities, fuel depot, fire-fighting systems, x-ray machines and improvements to other equipment and landscaping. But late last year whispers were heard that the 600 million baht earmarked for the 25,200 sq. meter terminal was used instead for flood relief and rebuilding in the north.

That turned out to be rumors put out by construction contractors who lost the bidding for the project. With delays in getting the full budget approved and no clarification from the military, the rumors only gained momentum.

But Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome set the record straight March 29, saying the budget was approved and Navy officials announced the bid winner. Work is expected to start imminently.

About 468 million baht will be used for adjustments and developing the departure and arrival halls and the remainder will be used for purchasing the necessary tools and equipment for the airport.

Rattanachai Sutidechanai, chairman of the Pattaya City Council’s Tourism and Sports Committee, said work should be completed by September 2012.

The expansion became necessary after yellow-shirted anti-government protestors shut down Bangkok’s two international airports in 2008. Pressed into service as the country’s main gateway, U-Tapao was over-run with stranded travelers, causing horrific delays and critical damage to the country’s image.