Along with significant growth in the tourism industry over the past five years has been growth in air traffic which has exceeded the capacity of current infrastructure.
Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang gateways are serving 35 million passengers over-capacity each year.
Overcrowded terminals and long queues are a common sight at both airports while airport slots are fully booked by airlines without room for more flights, not to mention growing demand for chartered planes and private jets.
Overcapacity has created challenging operating environments and threatens to compromise the ability of the tourism and aviation industries to fully deliver benefits to the country.
To relieve congestion at the capital’s two main gateways, the Transport Ministry’s Airports Department has proposed building a new airport in Nakhon Pathom, an adjacent province to Bangkok in the west, with an estimated investment of 20 billion baht.
According to the department’s deputy director-general Jaroon Meesomboon, the new infrastructure is being planned on a 3,500-rai block of land straddling Bang Len and Nakhon Chaisi districts under a public-private partnership investment program to keep public debt burden low.
Various groups have shown a keen interest in the new project, drawn by a high economic internal rate of return of more than 20%.
Under the plan, the government will absorb land appropriation costs while its private partners will build and operate the facility.
Construction is expected to take four years and the number of passengers in the first year of service is estimated at over one million, potentially on par with key regional airports like Surat Thani and Khon Kaen.
The study into the Nakhon Pathom airport construction plan is being analysed and the findings will be forwarded to the National Economic and Social Development Council before the proposal goes to the cabinet.
If approved by the cabinet, construction is likely to start in 2023 and commercial operations are expected in 2025-2026. The airport is designed to handle up to 25 million passengers per year when all the proposed phases of the airport are complete.
Nakhon Pathom is a strong contender for the new airport project thanks to its location and the comprehensive road network being developed to the west of Bangkok, says the Department of Airports.
The province is about 50 kilometres away from the inner areas of Bangkok.
It has a comprehensive road network including the Bang Yai-Kanchanaburi motorway, the outer ring road, and the Chon Buri-Saraburi-Nakhon Pathom motorway.
The Nakhon Pathom facility will be the fourth airport to serve the area around Bangkok.
While acquiring the land does not seem like much of a challenge, residents are worried about losing homes, farmland and livelihoods and have started complaining about land grabs by speculators.
Public hearings are currently under way to gather opinions about the project.