Private investors invited to check in at 29 Thai airports

PPPs and private operation schemes are among the frameworks being considered by the Thai government as it strives to plug private money into the sector.

Thailand’s Department of Airports (DOA) plans to invite the private sector to participate in the development of its 29 regional airports in a bid to expand the hubs’ combined capacity to 58 million passengers by 2026. 

Last month, the department held a meeting with private companies and conducted a survey on the management of existing airports and prospects for future projects, according to the National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT). 

The state’s news agency said similar surveys of private sector interest in airport development would take place in four more provinces, with the results to be submitted to the Ministry of Transport. 

Darun Saengchai, the DOA’s director-general, told the local press after the first survey that the development plan covers 28 existing airports and a new one currently under construction in Yala’s Betong district. The department would be open to consider different development models proposed by the private sector, including PPP and privately operated schemes, he added. 

The Ministry of Transport is seeking a 345 billion-baht ($9.92 billion; €9.11 billion) budget from the Cabinet to bolster transportation connectivity in the country, NNT said in a post last week. The proposed budget, which covers the DOA’s airport revamp, also calls for the development of railway systems and basic road improvement works.
The airport programme is part of the Eastern Economic Corridor initiative, a scheme echoing China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy that aims to strengthen regional connectivity through investment and trade. 

Investors from Hong Kong have shown interest in projects under the EEC during a three-day visit led by the territory’s Trade Development Council in Thailand last week. “Hong Kong investors are particularly interested in the renovation of U-Tapao Airport, Deep Sea Port Development and high-speed train projects,” said the NNT, quoting Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana. 

Saengchai said initial talks on airport development were held between the DOA and listed group Airports of Thailand, as the latter is keen to invest in upgrading Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Tak’s Mae Sot airports, which are currently managed by the DOA. AoT had not responded to queries for comments by press time. 

AoT runs Bangkok’s two international airports and four other international hubs at regional sites, such as Chiang Mai and Phuket. The company has a 70 percent stake held by the Ministry of Finance, with the rest of shares free floating on Thailand’s stock exchange. 

In addition to the 28 airports managed by the DOA and the six hubs overseen by AoT, Thailand’s Royal Navy runs the U-Tapao Pattaya International Airport while Bangkok Airways manages three regional facilities.