ASEAN airport upgrades taking off
Member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are spending billions of dollars upgrading airports or building new ones to accommodate a surge in tourist numbers.
And China accounts for the bulk of visitors to the 10-nation bloc.
Throughout Southeast Asia, the race is on to build bigger and better airports to cater to soaring tourist figures, fueled by the growing number of Chinese travelers.
Over the past decade, ASEAN, which comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei — has seen a dramatic increase in Chinese tourism, testing outdated infrastructure.
Even Singapore’s Changi Airport, voted the World’s Best Airport for the sixth consecutive year by consultancy Skytrax in its 2018 World Airport Awards, is undertaking a multibillion-dollar expansion.
Spanning 1,080 hectares (equivalent to more than 660 soccer fields), the Changi East project is the largest development in the airport’s history, according to the Changi Airport Group, which manages the Southeast Asian hub.
The development includes a new terminal (T5) and runway, which will see the number of runways rise from two to three.
Due to open in 2030, T5 will be bigger than Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 combined, which cater for 82 million passengers a year. An upgrade of T1, due for completion next year, will push capacity to 85 million annually. But T5 will add capacity for an extra 50 million passengers a year, the group said.
Caspar Baum, a regional expert on airport infrastructure who sits on the board of governors of the Asian Business Aviation Association, said global aviation volume is expected to treble over the next 15 years.
Much of this will be driven by traffic growth through Asia-Pacific, he said.
Baum said the key destinations and airports to be developed in Southeast Asia are in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Other areas (excluding China) are India, Nepal, Japan, Maldives, Australia, the South Pacific and New Zealand.
According to aviation consultancy CAPA, Asia accounts for nine of the 20 airports globally that handle at least 60 million passengers annually.
Five Asian airports reached 60 million passengers annually for the first time last year — Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok, Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, Baiyun in Guangzhou, Incheon in Seoul and Changi in Singapore.
In 2016, Asia only accounted for four, or 29 percent, of the 14 airports globally handling at least 60 million passengers a year. Asia will likely account for 50 percent of the airports handling 60 million-plus passengers this year, and more than 60 percent in 2020.
“Asia’s fast-growing share is an indication of its increased role in global traffic,” CAPA said.
“Large Asian airports (handling more than 30 million passengers annually) without infrastructure constraints are particularly well placed for growth, leading to a steady stream of airports reaching the 50 million and 60 million annual passenger milestones,” CAPA said in a report earlier this year.
Recently, the board of Airports of Thailand approved major expansions at Suvarnabhumi, the country’s main international airport in Bangkok, and also at the city’s second international airport, Don Mueang.
AOT expects Suvarnabhumi, already stretched to capacity due to the country’s tourism boom, to receive 65 million passengers this year and 68 million next year.
In June, Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, president of AOT, said the expansion plan will proceed until 2022 to increase capacity from 75 million to 90 million visitors annually at Suvarnabhumi and to 40 million at Don Mueang.
AOT runs several other airports in Thailand, including those at Phuket Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, all of which are undergoing expansion and renovation.
Tourism is a major pillar and powerhouse for the Thai economy, and is one of the main reasons for the expansions and upgrades.
The Thai government has been fueling infrastructure projects designed to help the country to become the secondlargest economy in Southeast Asia. Tourism accounts for 18 percent of Thailand’s GDP and remains critical for the economy to expand, starting with its airport initiatives, according to analysts.
In Laos, the area occupied by the international terminal at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, the capital, has been doubled to 25,000 square meters to support an initiative to boost tourism.
The airport opened the expanded terminal in August, boosting capacity to 2.3 million passengers a year. The terminal handles about 150 departures a week.
The expansion project cost nearly $90 million and was funded primarily by a loan provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, expects Vientiane’s international passenger traffic to double over the next five years, driven by a rapid rise in the number of visitors, especially Chinese.
Neil Bentley, vice-president of aviation in Asia-Pacific at multinational engineering company AECOM, told a conference recently that investments in infrastructure and human capital at airports are not keeping pace with growth in the aviation industry across ASEAN countries “except in a few cases”.
“Many countries have the necessary plans and programs, but seem to be struggling with an effective and timely rollout and implementation of those plans,” Bentley said.
According to the Oxford Business Group, a global publisher and consultancy, Indonesia’s airline market is among the fastest-growing globally and a leading driver of transportation industry expansion.
Although this growth has created capacity constraints at the country’s primary air hub, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, the completion of a third terminal has significantly boosted capacity, better enabling the airport to meet rapidly rising demand.
The Report: Indonesia 2018 by the Oxford Business Group said the government is shifting its focus to developing and upgrading airports outside of Jakarta, with plans to build 15 new ones in coming years.
An upgrade of Bali’s I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport is being led by stateowned airport operator Angkasa Pura I.
Construction work proceeds at Changi Airport in Singapore in April.