Thailand Suvarnabhumi Airport

Passengers at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport. Pic: AP

Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) suspended plans earlier this week for an expansion of Bangkok’s popular Suvarnabhumi Airport. Mekhanin Petchplai, a managing director of Airports of Thailand, said an NCPO panel on public spending “advised the airport authorities to ‘reconsider’ the plan and make it more transparent,” according to Khaosod.

Lt Gen Anantaporn Kanchanarat, head of the committee, said “the estimated 60 billion baht project was too expensive, despite the upgrade being necessary,” according to the Bangkok Post.

Though more oversight and transparency on public spending on the expansion may be a good thing, the airport already operates beyond its capacity and an expansion would ease the burden. Fifty-one million passengers use the airport each year, though the airport was built to accommodate 45 million.

“We are willing to comply with every policy of NCPO. If they want us to adjust the plan, we are willing to do so,” Khaosod quoted Mekhanin as saying. He also said he will move the expansion along to be completed in 2015, allowing the airport to increase its capacity to 60 million passengers.

Channel News Asia reported that despite the suspension on the Suvarnabhumi expansion, Airports of Thailand (AOT) will go ahead with plans to increase the capacity at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport. Suvarnabhumi primarily handles international flights, while Don Mueang serves domestic and regional carriers such as Nok Air and Air Asia. Anyone who has ever spent a few hours in DMK has likely experienced heavy crowds and a decidedly less comfortable experience than at Suvarnabhumi (though the service is efficient). Improvements at the airport will allow DMK to better handle the “soaring number of air passengers” traveling through there. DMK “is expected to serve 18 million passengers this year and its improvement should then raise its capacity to more than 30 million passengers annually,” Mekhanin said, according to Channel News Asia.

An upgrade to DMK’s Terminal 2 is scheduled to be completed this October, the Bangkok Post reported, which should allow for a passenger increase from 18 million to 30 million.

Mekhanin did note that numbers are down for air passengers traveling through Thailand, likely due to the volatile political situation. Khaosod said Mekhanin “expected that growth in the number of visitors to Thai airport would only stand at 2-3% by the end of 2014, which is far lower than the 9% rise from last year, as well as the 6.5% growth enjoyed by other airports in the Asia-Pacific region this year.” The Bangkok Post noted that several Thai airports saw a dip in passenger numbers this year, due to an earthquake in Chiang Rai and bombings in the deep south.

That paper also quoted Mekhanin as saying 1.3 billion baht from the 2015 budget will be used to upgrade a number of popular airports and better equip staff to “cope with the increasing risks posed by terrorism, natural disasters and contagious diseases.” For instance, contingency plans for tsunamis and earthquakes will be worked out for Phuket and Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, respectively.

In other Thailand travel news, Bangkok fell from its spot as Travel + Leisure Magazine’s number one city to visit in the world. Bangkok didn’t even rank in the top 10 worldwide on the 2014 list, though it came in at number three on the list of top cities in Asia. Kyoto took over the number one spot on both lists, and Siem Reap came in fourth in the world. Three mainland Chinese cities and Hong Kong made the Asia list, as did Singapore, Hanoi, Tokyo, and of course Siem Reap and Kyoto.