THE government has expressed confidence that investors will be drawn to a massive project that will see U-Tapao International Airport redeveloped as part of an overall plan for an Eastern Airport City.
Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana recently conveyed the government’s optimism for the project – a key element of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) – when he revealed that the terms of reference (TOR) for the development would be released soon. An Industry Ministry source this would happen by July.
The project will be opened to private companies to compete for work on the aviation facilities that will cover 570 rai.
Demonstrating its conviction, Thai Airways International (THAI) has allocated Bt10 billion for investment in the development of a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre on 210-rai plot within the complex.
“Even though the development of U-Tapao International Airport and the Eastern Airport City has been delayed as a result of waiting for the implementation of the Eastern Economic Corridor Act, which became effective in the middle of this month, we are quite confident that we will get the names of investors for different projects for the development of U-Tapao International Airport and the Eastern Airport City this year,” Uttama said. “Under the original timeframe, the invitation for private sector to invest in the U-Tapao project was to be conducted between March and June this year and the names of those who win the bids would be announced in September.
“Then, the contracts will be signed in October this year. However, you can see our urgency to make progress, such as for the high-speed train project that will connect three airports, Don Muang, Suvarnabhumi, and U-Tapao. We have just announced the invitation for interested private investors to participate in the bidding, and they are invited to respond by June 17.”
Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary-general of the EEC Office, said that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on June 4 will chair a meeting of the policy committee of the Eastern Special Economic Zone, which will be the first such meeting since the EEC Act took effect. “At the meeting, the plan and strategy for the U-Tapao airport and the Eastern Airport City project will be offered for approval. The aim is to push the U-Tapao development project to be fully completed at the same time as the high-speed train project that connects the three airports,” Kanit said.
A source from the Ministry of Transport said that the TOR documentation would be released by July, paving the way for the bidding process for the MRO centre at U-Tapao airport The source indicated that the framework for the TOR would be set with sufficient flexibility to encourage many private companies to participate in the process.
“THAI previously indicated a likelihood that it would manage the whole aircraft maintenance facility at U-Tapao airport in partnership with Airbus,” the source said. “However, the national carrier recently informed us that it would occupy about 200 rai of the space, out of the whole 570 rai plot, for their own MRO Campus. Due to many land sites remaining vacant in the facility, it is a sign that the government will open the bidding widely to any private investors that are keen to set up their own MRO facilities in the area, and for them to join immediately in the project.”
U-Tapao Airport Authority director Rear Admiral Luechai Sri-Eamgool said that the development of U-Tapao airport and the Eastern Airport City would consist of existing service areas in which the government will allocate additional investments, such as a second runway, an aviation training centre, and an infrastructure system to cater for expansion.
The airport development will also open new service areas, including the government’s investment in the first phase of MRO centre and air cargo in cooperation with THAI, and the first phase of the training centre for aviation personnel in cooperation with Civil Aviation Training Centre.
He said that after the first-phase development, the second-phase projects will enable the investment by private companies. They include the Passenger Terminal 3, the Commercial Gateway, air cargo, the second-phase development of the MRO centre and the training centre for aviation personnel, and a free-trade zone facility for the aviation industry and the business sector.
For the progression of the development, the advisory team is adjusting the design of the airport space after finding that the design for the second runway, which is under the first-phase development plan, puts it too close to nearby mountains and a motorway.
The adjustment will see the design enhanced and the new design of the airport space will be finished in June. After that, the airport development project will be submitted to the government for consideration and then enter into the stage that will be opened for private firms to participate in.
“We are confident that within the fourth quarter of this year, we will be able to open the bidding process and have the names of private firms that will awarded concessions in all investment projects on the development of the 6,500-rai plot at U-Tapao airport,” said Luechai.
“For the development of the MRO centre, THAI has informed us of its intention to utilise only 200 rai of land,” he said. “So, it is possible that the remaining area will be allocated to other private investors, who are interested to develop their own MRO facility. However, it depends on the government’s policy towards the matter.” Luechai said that THAI had previously expressed interest in the air cargo project, but the authority has not yet received direct contact from the online on its current intentions for air cargo.
The Royal Thai Navy, which owns the site for the air cargo facility under a right granted by the Treasury Department, has returned the budget for designing the air cargo facility back to the government. It is also possible that the authority may take back this land and seek bids from private companies. Luechai said U-Tapao International Airport can handle about 20 million passengers a year using its single runway of 3,500 metres. The existing passenger terminal can cater to about 700,000 domestic and international passengers a year, and this number would increase to 20 million after the completion of the overall project, Luechai said.