The Thai government has approved plans for an “aviation city” surrounding U-tapao airport located near Pattaya, citing the need to “revitalise” and grow its aviation sector.

Construction on the Eastern Aviation City will begin early-2023, says deputy government spokesperson Tipanan Sirichana says, with a total investment value of around Bt290 billion ($8.9 billion).

U-Tapao-International-Airport-artists rendition

Source: U-tapao Airport/One Works

An artist’s impression of the expanded U-tapao airport.

The public-private project spans about 10.4 million sq m in the eastern industrial province of Rayong, and will cover expansion works of U-tapao airport, which currently only sees a handful of flights a day.

While the construction timeline was not disclosed in Tipanan’s statement, Thai authorities expect the project to generate an annual return of Bt305 billion, and generate more than 15,000 new jobs.

The expanded U-tapao airport - long touted as an alternative gateway to capital Bangkok after Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports - will be able to handle up to 60 million passengers annual.

The project will also see U-tapao airport linked with the two Bangkok airports through high-speed rail.

The Thai-language statement adds: “With high-speed trains, all 3 airports can accommodate up to 200 million passengers per year, making Thailand the centre of the tourism industry, as well as logistics and aviation.”

The Eastern Aviation City comes under the Thai government’s Eastern Economic Corridor development plan, which envisages its eastern seaboard provinces become key aviation and seaport hubs.

Plans to expand U-tapao airport have been floated on several occasions, especially in the years before the coronavirus pandemic, where tourist arrivals hit record highs.