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Thailand to upgrade civil-military airport to take on Singapore
TRAVEL AND TOURISM Thailand

Thailand to upgrade civil-military airport to take on Singapore

Thailand is seeking to take on Singapore’s dominance in aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul with a $5.7 billion upgrade of a Vietnam War-era airport.

In February this year, Thailand’s Transport Ministry unveiled a development plan between 2017 and 2031 split into three phases.

The first phase between now and 2021 will focus on building a new maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) center for Thai Airways.

The second phase focuses on the continued expansion of that MRO center through 2026, and the third phase will focus on expanding Thailand’s aviation design and manufacturing capabilities.

U tapao aiport | Pattaya Today
U tapao aiport | Pattaya Today

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Sikorsky Aircraft is the latest company to study a possible increase in MRO spend in Thailand in the wake of the planned revamp of U-Tapao International Airport, said Ajarin Pattanapanchai, deputy secretary general of the nation’s Board of Investment. In March, Airbus SE signed an agreementwith Thai Airways International Pcl to evaluate the development of MRO facilities at the civil-military airport near Bangkok.

"Singapore is quite tight right now," Ajarin said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Toronto office on May 25, during a visit to Canada to woo investment. "To catch up with the demand of airlines in the region -- especially new demand from Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia -- and given that we have existing strengths with automotives and engineering, Thailand will be the second choice to be the MRO hub."

The airport project is part of Thai government goal of boosting the economy, whose expansion has lagged behind neighbors since the military seized power three years ago. It’s also a key component of a plan to invest 1.5 trillion baht ($44 billion) between 2017-2021 to develop the country’s eastern seaboard. 

U-Tapao International Airport is a joint civil–military public airport serving Rayong and Pattaya cities in Thailand. It is in Ban Chang District of Rayong Province.

It also serves as the U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, home of the Royal Thai Navy First Air Wing. U-Tapao is the home of a large Thai Airways maintenance facility, servicing that airline's aircraft as well as those of other customers.

Due to the blockade of Bangkok's airports by opposition protesters, U-Tapao briefly became the main air gateway to Thailand between 26 November and 5 December 2008. As both of Bangkok's international airports essential to the country's tourist boom are operating beyond capacity as of 2015, U-tapao in particular has been eyed as an alternate international gateway due to relative proximity to the capital.

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