In 2015 work on Koh Phangan Airport came to a halt. Not only was the project coming in over budget but also legal difficulties were preventing the vital transport hub from being completed. Throughout 2016 it looked like Koh Phangan Airport was dead in the water. The latest news released by Kan Air to the Bangkok Post has revived hopes that the airport will eventually be completed and the dream of being able to fly directly to Koh Phangan is now back on.
On 5th September the Bangkok Post published an online article entitled, ‘Koh Phangan Airport Developer Seeks Loans‘. The lead is about the search for an injection of cash to complete Koh Phangan Airport. Kan Air estimate they need 1.5 Billion more Thai Baht to get the job done.
Kannithi Aviation that runs Kan Air has told the newspaper that ideally they want a soft loan from foreign financiers. The distinction between foreign and Thai finance is to do with the lower interest rates charged by non- Thai financiers.
The President of Kannithi Aviation Somphong Sooksanguan stated that he preferred loans to raise capital rather than a joint venture. The article states that this will speed up completion of the airport. However, no evidence is provided as to why joint ventures lead to delays.
The Bangkok Post must have forgotten that it had earlier reported that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the airport had been waived. Now it claims that this is a potential stumbling block for the project. Besides can you start clearing the land and grading it before the impact assessment has given the all clear?
A new bit of information is that Kannithi Air plans to open up the airport not just for Kan Air flights but also for other airlines. This means the possibility of more scheduled flights and possibly scheduled flights to destinations other than just Bangkok.
Original estimates for costs to build Koh Phangan Airport were 900 million Thai Baht. The project has to date racked up costs of close to 2 billion Thai Baht.
The Bangkok Post seems to periodically re-post the same story of Koh Phangan getting a new airport without referencing its earlier posts on the same news item. If they did then they would have noted that the most recent statement regarding the type of aircraft to be used has changed again.
The first announcements claimed that ATR 72 Turboprops would be used. Then it was claimed that the airplanes would be 4 leased Bombardier Q400 airplanes. This idea has been abandoned and the plan is now again to use 2 ATR 72 Turbo props according to a post on the Bangkok Post dated 1st July, 2014.
So far the airport has cost Kan Air 500 million Thai Baht. Although no concrete has yet been laid the airport terminal has been ‘started’. The Bangkok Post claims that the work is 70% completed. The estimated total bill for the airport construction is to be 1 billion Baht.
Finally, the latest claim for a completion date is ‘year-end’. This would be ideal to coincide with the peak season on Koh Phangan.
Airport construction is now fully under way. The land is being levelled in preparation of the laying of the runway and laying of foundations for the terminal buildings. The majority of the work is at the moment being carried out by a local contractor from Thong Nai Pan Yai, whose invaluable experience creating the roads on the island is being put to good use on this project.
The large flat area you can see in the third picture marks the far end of the runway, and beside which will sit the aircraft hangar. The rocky area shown in the second photograph is where the terminal buildings will start, continuing to the area to the right of the picture. The runway will go along the back of this area.
Completion is still some way off, but excitement about the new airport is growing on Koh Phangan. Now that the project is becoming more a reality the imminent changes to the island economy are beginning to sink in. There is firm talk of one or more major new luxury resorts on the East Coast of Koh Phangan, and not in Thong Nai Pan for a change. The most likely candidates are Bottle Beach and Haad Yao (East) both within a 10 minute drive of the new airport.
Contracts are also under negotiation for several new villa projects in Thong Nai Pan, the main town on the East Coast. Even before it is built the airport is leading to local economic expansion, and this is set to continue with Koh Phangan fast on track to compete with neighbouring island Koh Samui both in terms of facilities and tourist numbers.
Kan Air proposes to start daily scheduled flights from Koh Phangan Airport to Don Muang Airport in Bangkok. This airport was closed when Suvarnabhumi was opened but re-opened a few years ago to cope with the congestion at the new airport.
Don Muang Airport (also spelt ‘Don Mueng’) was replaced by Suvarnabhumi because it was too small to deal with the rising numbers of tourists arriving in Thailand. The new airport was bigger and also closer to the center of Bangkok.
Although the walk down to passport control seems long and the food prices expensive, Suvarnabhumi for all its faults is a good international airport. It has a large capacity, it processes people into Thailand quickly, and best of all, it has a rail link connecting it with downtown Bangkok.
In contrast the newly opened Don Muang airport that currently hosts several major airlines such as Nok Air, Solar Air and Air Asia does not have the advantages of Suvarnabhumi. It doesn’t have a convenient rail link (there is one but not close and often the trains are 90 minutes apart), and it has less amenities and facilities. There is none of the clever zonal air-con or the same large selection of shops and restaurants.
Additionally the main food court is before passport control (when leaving the airport). A basic noodle dish costs 185 Thai Baht; on the street outside the airport it costs 35 Baht.
Finally, the check-in desks at the new Don Muang airport are often besieged with technical problems causing long queues.
It is hoped that Airports of Thailand (AOT) respond to the complaints made about Don Muang Airport and up-date the facilities, and lobby for a modern public transport link to the airport.
Kan Air seeks to become a major carrier in the region
Kan Air are not just planning to lay on a few flights between Koh Phangan and Bangkok; rather they hope to become a major carrier in the Samui Archipelago. Currently the only major carrier is Bangkok Airways. It runs flights from Koh Samui airport to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket as well as international destinations. Until a few years ago Bangkok Airways had a monopoly on Koh Samui Airport.
Now a few other carriers can use Koh Samui Airport. For the consumer this is great because Bangkok Airways that styles itself as a ‘boutique airline’ over-charges by about 30% for its flights.
For years people wanting to get to Koh Phangan quickly had to take an early flight to Koh Samui and then spend another 500 Thai Baht and hour getting from the airport to Big Buddha or Maenam ferry port and then taking a ferry to Thongsala, Haad Rin or Thong Nai Pan.
The new airport situated between Than Sadet and Thong Nai Pan in Koh Phangan intends to eventually establish a full schedule of flights to Koh Tao, Koh Samui as well as Bangkok.
Koh Phangan has frequently more than 30,000 visitors during Full Moon Parties and peak seasons. This is a massive market for flights. People often want to go to the Full Moon Party or a hotel in Thong Nai Pan for a short stay or a last-minute break. Having a convenient airport will be a good plus for Koh Phangan, and will draw in more tourists.
This will of course give Kan Air the financial ability to improve services and the number of scheduled flights.
In 2011 work began on the process of building Koh Phangan airport. Permission had been given but the engineers had difficulty finding the best location for the runway and airport buildings. A site in Chaloklum seemed also under consideration.
Now the site in the north-east of Koh Phangan between Thong Nai Pan and Than Sadet has been developed, and work is well advanced to prepare the land and start building. The budget for the project has been revealed via the Bangkok Post as being $22 million dollars. This is an ambitious move from a relatively small budget carrier. Kan Air has told the press that the airport will be finished in the second half of 2013. That gives them about 6 months to complete.
The plans are for a runway that is 1,100 meters long. Koh Samui runway is much bigger – 2,060 meters. The short length of the runway is due to the mountainous terrain. Kan Air will lease 2 turboprops that can hold 50 people to run 3 80-minute flights to Don Muang Airport in Bangkok. Kan Air went into business in 2010 and has currently 1 Cessna that holds 12 people and goes between cities in the north. The hub for the carrier is Chiang Mai. Kan Air is hoping to move its hub to Bangkok’s newly booming Don Muang Airport and offer flights in the south of Thailand.
The future business health of Kan Air seems to have been staked on Koh Phangan Airport’s speedy completion and success as a travel hub.
As is so often the case in Thailand major decisions are not so much announced as allowed to escape into the public domain. For most of the residents of Koh Phangan it was when they saw the following sign dotted around the island that they began to think that the rumors about Koh Phangan getting an airport were not just empty rumors.
For those who don’t read Thai, the sign basically indicates Kan Air’s sincere thanks for being given permission to build a runway on Koh Phangan.
The announcement surprised lots of people. Those who are familiar with the island know that it is an island covered in mountains in the center and along the east and west coasts. There are, of course, flat areas suitable for an airport but for years it seemed that nearby Koh Samui Airport would suffice to service Koh Phangan. The island was somewhat defined as Koh Samui’s ‘little brother’ that was not as developed and that drew many backpackers and low-end tourists looking for more pristine nature as well as cheaper prices.
This perception has changed over the last 10 years with the boom in the Full Moon Party industry. The Full Moon Party in Haad Rin as well as the other parties in Haad Rin and Ban Tai draw thousands of visitors to Koh Phangan every month.
Another change is the creation of an up-market enclave in Thong Nai Pan Noi that has 4 luxury hotels to choose from.
It seemed time that Koh Phangan stepped out of the shadow of its big brother and demanded its own independence. Kan Air with its successful bid to gain permission to build Koh Phangan Airport has judged the situation carefully.
Moreover, at the same time the government has identified 100 tourist locations in Thailand that should be developed. Koh Phangan is among the first 29 locations to receive funding. The projects for Koh Phangan include building a reservoir near Thong Nai Pan , further improving the roads on the island and laying underwater electric and telecommunication wires between Koh Phangan and the mainland. This will greatly improve the electricity supply and internet speeds as currently both are routed through Koh Samui.
It really is time for Koh Phangan to come out from Koh Samui’s shadow. The announcement of an airport for Koh Phangan should be seen in such a context. Whether the consequences of this action prove good or bad for the inhabitants of the island we will have to wait and see.