Three airports are better than one

An airport trifecta on the Eastern Seaboard

Ask any city planner worth their salary and they’ll tell you, to build a proper metropolis you’ve got to have a great airport. Well, here in the heart of Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor, we’ve got three.


If you’re an old timer like me, you remember landing at Don Muang International Airport (DMK) in Bangkok back in the day. Don Muang is considered one of the world’s oldest international airports and Asia’s oldest operating airport. It was officially opened as a Royal Thai Air Force base in 1914. Commercial flights began in 1924, making it one of the world’s oldest commercial airports. At one point, it was the 14th busiest airport in the world and second in Asia by passenger volume.  

In the early 2000s, DMK was operating beyond its capacity and had no room for expansion, so the Thai government developed Suvarnabhumi International Airport on the southern edge of Bangkok (BKK). The new airport began operation in 2006 and everyone thought DMK would be closed. Instead, funds and room for expansion materialized and the old airport was given a second life. When the expansion is complete in 2022, DMK’s capacity will be raised to over 30 million passengers.

Meanwhile, Suvarnabhumi International Airport has never stopped expanding. BKK is set to undergo a $236m (THB7.8bn) expansion starting in July.
Currently the airport’s capacity is 45 million passengers, but upon completion in March 2025, the expanded area is expected to increase the airport’s capacity by 44% with an annual passenger handling capacity of up to 65 million.

AOT vice-president Kerati Kijmanawat said that the East Expansion project will add 66,000m² additional space for the inclusion of 108 new check-in counters, six sets of baggage conveyors and nine security checkpoints.

And now both Bangkok airport’s little sister down the Eastern Seaboard is getting in on the expansion act. Utapao International Airport near Pattaya and Rayong was built by the American military during the ramp up to the Vietnam War in 1966. After the Americans left, the massive runways constructed to accommodate B-52 bombers were the perfect starter kit for an international airport.

Utapao Airport has been operating as an international hub for years but recently got kicked into expansion mode with the help of a public/private partnership. The government of Thailand approved a $9 billion plan by a consortium led by rail operator BTS Group to expand U-Tapao International Airport.

The deal, which will involve building a third terminal, as well as cargo and plane maintenance centers, is due to be signed on 19 June. BTS Group runs Bangkok’s Skytrain and metro systems. The consortium also includes Bangkok Airways and Sino-Thai Engineering & Construction. The expanded airport would be managed by Japan’s Narita International Airport Corporation. U-Tapao is one of the projects being prioritized by Thailand as part of the Eastern Economic Corridor, a development zone running between Bangkok and Pattaya.

The sprawling megapolis that starts in Bangkok and ends 200 kilometers away in Rayong will be powered by not one, but three world-class international airports with the capacity to handle over 150 million passengers a year.  

It sounds impressive right? Well, wait until you hear about the high-speed train that’s going to link them all together!

This and more in our next article....

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