The construction of Utapao started in October 1965; its completion occurred a little over two years later. Utapao was built as a naval airbase and to this day still serves the Royal Thai Navy’s First Air Wing. Nowadays, Utapao is a joint civil-military airport that serves the Rayong and Pattaya districts, and with Thailand’s Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi international airports operating beyond capacity, Utapao looks set to become Thailand’s next international gateway for airlines.
Utapao is located in the Ban Chang district of the Rayong Province. The distance from the airport to Pattaya is only 42KM, meaning a short travelling time of around 45 minutes before the beaches of this famous resort city are in view. To ease the increased flow of traffic along the highways, there are plans for a future bypass road to ensure that visitors to the Land of Smiles can quickly get to Pattaya. If Pattaya is not the destination, then the Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat provinces are just as easily accessible, as well as the well-known islands of Koh Samet and Koh Chang.
Annually, Utapao serves 800,000 passengers, but this is set to increase to 3 million by next year after the opening of a new second terminal in late 2016, early 2017. Approximately 620 million baht has already been invested as part of the first-phase of development. The second-phase of development, due to start in 2018 and be completed by 2020, will see a rise to 5 million passengers annually. From this, it is apparent that Thailand sees Utapao as a key driver of aviation growth.
AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, China Southern Airlines, Kan Air and Thai AirAsia currently operate from Utapao and fly to local destinations such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Udon Thani as well as international destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Macau and Shanghai to name but a few. After the new terminal is complete, the amount of different airlines and the destinations to which they fly are likely to increase significantly, especially as the runway is already capable of handling narrow- and wide-body aircraft such as the A380. The experienced Thai Airways International will handle ground operations for seamless passenger services.
The convenient connection to Pattaya and surrounding areas makes the future of this airport bright indeed. In the not too distant future, it seems more than likely one will fly to Utapao if wanting to visit Pattaya or the surrounding provinces; Suvarnabhumi airport might become a distant memory, just as Don Mueang airport did.