Phuket Airport expansion raises environmental concerns

With news that the long-awaited Phuket Airport expansion has reached the design phase, Thailand’s new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, is displaying his commitment to the Thai travel industry by preparing the country’s infrastructure with a beefed-up travel hub easily capable of handling the increase in arrivals during peak travel periods.

The work is slated for completion by 2027 and will enable the airport to process up to 18 million passengers per year.

Phuket Airport’s expansion will boost passengers handling capacity to 18 million per year

In comments to a group of entrepreneurs and business people last week, reported by the Bangkok Post, Srettha said: “I want everyone to know that the Pheu Thai government will propel the tourism sector in every dimension, including matters related to airlines, airports, security, visa exemption for some countries and extension of stays so that operators can prepare their business plans in advance.”

Ludovic Gallerne, vice president – global commerce of S Hotels & Resorts, believes the prime minister is on the right track.

Gallerne said: “This is absolutely good news to hear. The government plans to expand the airport in Phuket as flight capacity, especially in the high season, has almost reached its limits. Phuket has bounced back very well following Covid-19 and serves destinations like Khao Lak and Koh Phi Phi, as well as Phuket itself. The expansion will help to ensure a good continuation in our arrivals.”

However, Gallerne also has some concerns over the environmental impact of the expansion project. He told TTG Asia: “Phuket is already a world-famous destination where tons of tourists flock to every year. As long as the government plans with land and transport infrastructure organisations to enforce regulations to protect the environment, Phuket can see steady growth without a negative environmental effect.”

However, Bill Barnett, founder and managing director of C9 Hotel Works and a powerful voice for sustainable travel in Phuket, is not impressed with the project and believes more than expanding the existing airport is required to counter ongoing issues.

Barnett said: “The expansion plans are only a bandaid for the current tourism and economic recovery. Phuket has significant seasonal swings in arrivals, and handling peak period passenger traffic is a recurring issue, whether at immigration lines, on the tarmac, or overcrowding and a lack of seating in departures. These problems will be compounded by the steady return of Chinese tourists this year. This peak season is expected to be hectic.”

He cites a need for a second airport as a more long-term solution to the problem and believes a second runway cannot be accommodated on the present site.

Barnett added: ‘Phuket’s transportation infrastructure is a crumbling house of cards, and the sharp rise in residential projects, new hotels, and expansion of international schools has added to rising traffic woes.

“While the airport is one issue, the second is how to get anywhere once you arrive, and the peak season, this November, will likely bring the issues to a head. Bangkok’s central government can no longer continue to sit on the fence on these issues and must develop a sustainable transportation and infrastructure master plan.”

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