Utapao airport carrier roster growing substantially
Air Asia set a Thai record for simultaneous launches at the start of December when it introduced four scheduled flight services out of Utapao: to Chiang Mai, Udon Thani, Singapore and Macau. A few days later it added yet another route, to Hat Yai.
These new flights now mean that Air Asia alone operates 46 flights per week to nine cities in Thailand and Asia through the Rayong province-based international airport, which is a record number at the moment for any single airline operating out of the location.
Management of Air Asia said they are looking at possibly adding routes to Chiang Rai, Ubon Ratchathani and Khon Kaen in the near future, although they are currently looking closely at the viability of connecting with airports in India since large numbers of Indian tourists are now coming to Pattaya for holidays and business.
Utapao is seen as the gateway to Pattaya and the Eastern Seaboard, being even closer in travelling time than Suvarnabhumi airport.
As well as Air Asia, Chinese-based airlines are looking ever more closely at connecting with Utapao. Chinese tourist numbers coming into Pattaya have grown substantially in recent years and China Southern Airlines is due to fly its first plane into Utapao on 8 January. China Southern Airlines is claimed to be the sixth-largest in the world by passenger numbers and is Asia’s largest in terms of plane numbers.
Okay Airways, another Chinese airline, as well as the highly-rated Emirates and THAI Smile (the budget carrier operated by Thai Airways International) have also expressed serious interest in adding regular routes into Utapao.
The airport is still very much under the control of the Royal Thai Navy, but because of its location and the fact that it is undergoing a major upgrade expected to cost around 700 million baht, its management have been keen to woo local and international operators.
The airport currently handles around 870,000 passengers a year, but once the upgrade is complete this is expected to jump to around three million people. The bulk of the upgrade has been centred on building a larger and more modern passenger terminal.
The Utapao runways can easily handle the largest passenger jets, with the airport originally being extended and modernised during the Second Indochina War and housing the large US B-52 bombers, which would fly out of the base to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong and elsewhere between the mid-1960s and early 1970s.
The Bangkok floods of 2011 saw Utapao used as an alternative airport to take out stranded tourists and ever since then it has been earmarked for an increasingly important commercial role in the Thailand aviation marketplace.