Ten years after it was first announced, a second passenger terminal at U-Tapao Rayong-Pattaya International Airport has finally opened, tripling the military airport’s capacity.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha opened the facility Dec. 4, saying it marks another step toward the navy air field becoming a fully commercial airport. It will help stimulate the domestic economy and serve as a gateway to the Eastern Economic Corridor, he added.
The Prime Minister then visited an exhibition and facilities inside the new terminal with navy commander-in-chief Adm. Luechai Ruddit.
Luechai said U-Tapao currently handles about 2 million passengers a year and 15,000 flights. The tiny original terminal – dating back to 1989 – was only designed to handle 700,000 passengers a year.
The new terminal will see U-Tapao expand flight operations to 18 airlines on 36 routes to China, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Vice Adm. Kritchapol Rengjumnong, the airport’s director, said the perception of U-Tapao as a military airport is outdated. He said the entire area has seen commercial development and the air field took up some of the slack when Suvarnabhumi International Airport was closed by anti-government protestors in 2008.
With its long runway built by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, U-Tapao also can handle the biggest of jetliners, including an Airbus A380 that diverted to U-Tapao after an in-air emergency in April 2018.
A Tortured History
The opening of the new terminal comes 10 years after the government – in the wake of the 2008 protests – announced a 995-million-baht plan to transform U-Tapao into a modern international air hub, new parking facilities, fuel depot, fire-fighting systems, x-ray machines and improvements to other equipment and landscaping.
While ground for the terminal was broken in 2011 and the fire, fuel and X-ray system purchased in 2014, the terminal – originally estimated at 468 million baht – had only its foundation laid.
The project’s original contractor first said it could not deliver the terminal on time, then insisted the budget was too small to do the job at all. The contractor was fired and work stopped while the project was put out for bid, coming in at 619 million baht.
The May 2014 military coup then stalled the construction work until 2016 when Prayut finally endorsed a new development plan.