PM announces plans for a mid-sea airport in Hua Hin

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. Image: Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has unveiled an ambitious initiative aimed at transforming Thailand into a global aviation hub.

The plans involve a nationwide overhaul and expansion of Thailand’s airport infrastructure to support both domestic and international travel.

And while Hua Hin’s existing airport wasn’t mentioned in the plans specifically, another interesting development for the region was.

Part of this vision is the development of a state-of-the-art mid-sea airport in Hua Hin, designed to cater exclusively to high-net-worth individuals traveling on private jets.

This facility is set to link three of Thailand’s most picturesque destinations: Koh Samui, Koh Chang, and Hua Hin itself.

Mr Srettha said that a study is already underway into the creation of the mid-sea-airport in Hua Hin, along with the other destinations.

An example of a sea airport. File photo.

The news comes after the Airports of Thailand (AOT) announced plans in January to start construction of the country’s inaugural seaplane terminal at Phuket International Airport.

The innovative project, slated to launch in 2025, aims to enhance Phuket International Airport’s capacity and introduce a new era of passenger transport.

The seaplane services will connect key tourist destinations, including Phuket, Samui, Pattaya, and notably, Hua Hin, offering a significant reduction in travel time and increased convenience for travelers.

Mr. Keerati Kijmanawat, CEO of AOT, mentioned that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is currently being prepared for the development of the water aerodrome at Phuket Airport. It is expected that the tendering and construction processes will begin by early 2028.

AOT is confident in the high demand for seaplane travel among tourists at Phuket International Airport, with private operators already expressing interest in initiating seaplane operations.

Transforming Thailand into a global aviation hub

The Prime Minister’s announcement was made under the banner “IGNITE THAILAND, AVIATION HUB,” signaling a comprehensive strategy aimed not only at enhancing the country’s infrastructure but also at significantly boosting its tourism sector.

Accompanied by Minister of Transport Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Deputy Minister of Transport Manop Charoenphol, and top executives from Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited (AOT), among others, Srettha Thavisin described a future where Thailand emerges as the Aviation Hub of Asia.

The plan involves upgrading of both primary and secondary airports across the nation, including a major expansion of the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

By adding terminals and runways, the government aims to accommodate an astounding 200 million tourists, propelling Thailand into the top 20 global rankings and securing the third spot in Asian aviation.

He pointed out a concerning trend with Suvarnabhumi Airport, which, a decade ago, was ranked 13th globally but has since plummeted to 68th place—a significant decline for a nation with the world’s 24th largest economy.

He noted that neighboring countries, including Malaysia, which has not made significant investments in aviation, rank higher than Thailand. This situation is even more pronounced when considering aviation hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong. A key issue he identified is the insufficient allocation of flight slots in Thailand. Despite Suvarnabhumi’s designed capacity to handle 45 million tourists, it managed 60 million last year, indicating a severe strain on its facilities.

Mr. Srettha warned that without adjustments to accommodate a successful tourism policy, the result would be inevitable chaos. This includes addressing the issue of an uncoordinated computer system among various suppliers, which poses a risk of system failure and undermines the country’s potential.

Seventeen years ago, the vision for Suvarnabhumi Airport encompassed a sprawling 20,000-acre site featuring a main terminal supported by two runways. Recently, the SAT1 aircraft docking building was inaugurated, connected via a tunnel—a realization of the government’s aspirations from 17 years prior. Despite this progress, challenges persist.

Immigration issues at Suvarnabhumi to be solved

Addressing the issue of long queues at immigration check ins, Mr. Srettha announced plans to streamline the process, significantly reducing the time passengers spend at immigration checkpoints, with improvements to be implemented within six months.

This includes the introduction of automated check-in and baggage handling systems, allowing passengers to check in and drop off their luggage six hours before their flight. This improvement aims to enhance the travel experience, giving passengers more freedom to enjoy shopping and other amenities worry-free.

Suvarnabhumi Airport . File photo

To further boost efficiency, the government plans to increase the number of ground service staff through a competitive selection process with clear performance indicators. This initiative is designed to enhance the quality of ground services, including baggage handling, by establishing rigorous competition standards and clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for service providers, ensuring superior service for both tourists and Thai citizens. Providers failing to meet these standards will be subject to downgrading.

“I am confident that in the next six months, we’ll eliminate the long wait times at check-in queues by addressing various management and supplier issues, thereby upgrading and downgrading as necessary,” Mr. Srettha said.

Thailand to tap into growing demand from private jet owners

A notable emphasis was placed on improving the experience for private jet owners, with Suvarnabhumi set to enhance its facilities to accommodate the growing demand.

“The landscape of aviation and transportation is undeniably changing. The popularity of private jets in Thailand has surged, surpassing even Singapore, particularly during festival seasons when parking space becomes scarce. In response, we are planning to open Suvarnabhumi to more private jets, equipping the facility to tap into millions in revenue,” stated the Prime Minister.

Don Mueang Airport is also slated for significant upgrades to transform it into a comprehensive Point to Point Airport, capable of handling 50 million passengers by 2030. The focus extends beyond passenger traffic, with plans to showcase OTOP (One Tambon One Product) goods, reinforcing the airport’s role in promoting local products and culture.

In addition, there are plans to expand parking facilities, increasing the current capacity fivefold to accommodate around 7,600 vehicles by 2090. This expansion will begin with the immediate addition of 1,000 parking spaces within the next three months, addressing the growing need for parking at Don Mueang.

The development of the mid-sea airport in Hua Hin is just one facet of a larger blueprint to establish Andaman and northern airports, enhancing connectivity and facilitating direct international flights.

AOT has plans to expand the capacity of Phuket International Airport (HKT), develop its expansion part of International Passenger Terminal and construct a new pier to increase its capacity to handle 18 million passengers per year.

This also includes the construction of second Phuket International Airport or known as Andaman Airport which will be able to additionally handle passengers to 40 million and has its potential to become a southern hub serving long-haul flights and direct international point-to-point flights.

Chiang Mai International Airport. File photo.

Meanwhile, the northern aviation hub also covers the first phase expansion project of Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX). For example, the construction of a new International Passenger Terminal and the renovation of existing Passenger Terminal which will increase the handling capacity to 16.5 million passengers per year.

This also includes the construction of second Chiang Mai International Airport or Lanna Airport, as it will be known, will be able to accommodate 20 million passengers per year.

For Mae-Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport, the airport has its first phase development project by constructing a new Passenger Terminal to increase its capacity to handle 6 million passengers per year.

The PM’s vision extends to fostering partnerships with both local and international airlines that will offer tourists attractive packages and promote Thailand as a top-tier destination.

He highlighted the likes of Bangkok Airways, Thai Vietjet, and AirAsia, to encourage alliance formations. Similar collaborations with international carriers such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines are envisioned, involving co-promotional activities like offering discounted hotel bookings and highlighting products and services on their platforms.

These initiatives are part of a broader strategy to dramatically transform the economy by promoting tourism and enhancing aviation infrastructure, thereby supporting various tourist destinations and facilitating an increase in air travel.