Third Bangkok airport proposed to ease overcrowding pain

Eternal queues greet travelers to the hellscape of Suvarnabhumi Airport as documented by a well-known Aussie expat. Photo: Andrew Biggs / Twitter
Eternal queues greet travelers to the hellscape of Suvarnabhumi Airport as documented by a well-known Aussie expat. Photo: Andrew Biggs / Twitter

Seven years from now, Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi may not be the only airports welcoming passengers in Bangkok with word that construction of a third is being considered to alleviate overcrowding.

Presented as the antidote to painful congestion at Bangkok’s two major airports, plans for a new airport in western metro Bangkok’s Nakhon Pathom province, the capital’s third air travel hub, were announced Saturday by government aviation officials.

Deputy director-general of the Airport Department, Jarun Meesomboon, said a proposal for the 560-hectare (3,500-rai) airport was being rushed for approval by the Transport Ministry. It would straddle Nakhon Pathom’s Bang Len and Nakhon Chaisi districts. He very optimistically predicted it would cost THB20 billion (US$65 million) and take four years to complete.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport opened a year late in 2006 and cost an estimated 155 billion baht (US$5 billion).

The department will hold a public hearing on the proposal next month with the aim of drafting project terms of reference in the near future. 

Under best-case circumstances, the department would begin construction in 2023 and open the airport by 2026. Jarun predicted that more than 1 million passengers would use the new airport in its first year and that could become a key regional gateway such as those in Kohn Kean or Surat Thani. 

Officials are proposing the new airport could be geared toward international travel from South Asia and Southeast Asia. Travel from the Indian subcontinent has spiked in the past year, offsetting losses in arrivals from China.

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It would make for the fourth airport funneling travelers into the capital. Suvarnabhumi became so overwhelmed after opening that Bangkok’s original airport, Don Meuang, was reopened a year later in 2007 and has since been expanded. The military government has advanced plans for U-Tapao International Airport, located southeast of the capital, to serve both Bangkok and a planned eastern economic corridor.

A rail link between all three of those airports is under construction by the nation’s largest corporate conglomerate. 

Word of another may be welcome to those who travel in and out of Bangkok’s current airports, where complaints run high about nightmare immigration lines.

Just last week, funny man and online teacher Andrew Biggs propelled this issue into the spotlight when described Suvarnabhumi’s immigration queue as “hell for tourists.” 

“Suvarnabhumi is hell for tourists. Look at the queues today. I have never seen them this long,” the Australian expat tweeted Wednesday in Thai.

After the post went viral, Biggs added, “Several counters are closed during rush hour. I don’t understand.” 

In response, the Immigration Bureau said the counters were fully staffed but blamed the fact that some 20 flights happened to land at around the time Biggs arrived. (No way to see that one coming, eh guys?)

That caused more than 1,200 passengers to suddenly pour of the hall, which can only accommodate 500 people. The bureau said it later managed to cut wait times to 30 minutes, after Biggs had passed through.

An immigration spokesman assured reporters that the bureau has contingency plans to handle large numbers of passengers arriving at the same time, despite the fact that was exactly what didn’t happen.

This bureaucratic riddle begs the question: Would a new airport really solve the overcrowding?

Related stories:

New Chinese-only immigration lanes to open at 5 Thai airports

Crazy queue at Suvarnabhumi Airport’s immigration causes travelers to miss flights

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